Having seen “Zero Dark 30,” I’m happy director Kathryn Bigelow was snubbed for an Oscar nomination, even though she my have done the best directing job of the year.
“Zero Dark 30” is odd that way. It really works as cinema, but Bigelow’s craven refusal to deal with its biggest issue pulls it down. The must-read on this is Jane Mayer’s piece. Long story short: a not terribly bright or well-informed person watching this movie would conclude that torture produced intelligence that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden. This assumption has been tested, by showing the movie to Joe Scarborough, and that is exactly what happened. As Mayer’s piece points out, Bigelow completely ignores the wrenching debate that took place with in American defense and intelligence about the legality, efficacy and morality of torture. To watch the movie is to see a world in which there were no dissenting opinions, when in fact there were many. Also multiple reports contradict the film’s premise that the information about bin Laden’s courier came from prisoners being tortured by the CIA.
So torture (a) wasn’t universally accepted and (b) wasn’t the key to finding bin Laden. I’ll risk muddying the water with a related observation: No matter how it’s framed, this can’t really be a story of American triumphalism. It took the most powerful nation in the world ten long years to find this guy. This is the story of victory snatched from the jaws of defeat, but defeat chewed victory like a Petco toy for years.
Bigelow’s historical vision is very selective, usually in the service of triumphalism. One conveniently ignored sub-plot was the doctor who risked his life to aid us in finding bin Laden and is now being tortured in Pakistan prison. Didn’t fit Bigelow’s ass-kicking narrative.