‘Zero Dark Thirty’ is great drama,
but not historically accurate;
ignores overwhelming evidence
Jessica Chastain stars in “Zero Dark Thirty” in this image taken from the seatback screen on UA 935 on Tuesday. Note the crystal clear resolution … it’s almost as good as my MacBook Pro. Image shot with ProCamera app on iPhone4s from seatback screen in UA 935. © SGE, Inc.
PERHAPS the reason that Director/Producer Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty” did not win the Best Picture Oscar this year is because the voting Academy members realized it is fundamentally flawed.
It works splendidly as drama. The acting is above average, production values superb, script by Mark Boal definitely praiseworthy and special effects stunning.
But it begins with a claim to historical accuracy. “This … is based on a true account of events,” claims the opening title screen.
That may indeed be the case, but the fundamental flaw of “Zero Dark Thirty” is that it ignores a massive body of evidence showing, conclusively, that torture does not work.
FOR THE FIRST one third of this gripping epic of how Osama Bin Laden was tracked, then killed, we are shown graphic scenes of Americans – civilian and military, CIA spooks and kooks – torturing detainees, who may or may not have committed any offense themselves.
They are waterboarded. Forced to stand naked. Deprived of sleep and food.
Then, supposedly, they reveal vital information that leads to the location in Pakistan where Bin Laden is hiding, and the daring raid in which he is killed and his bullet-ridden corpse brought back in a green body bag.
Study after study, in fields as diverse as psychology, criminology and neuroscience, have demonstrated time and time again that torture does not work.
Quite apart from the Geneva Conventions, to which the U.S. is obligated by treaty ratified by the U.S. Senate, mans’ inhumanity to man leads to iffy outcomes, at best.
When men (and, sometimes, women) are tortured to the very edge of death, experts report, they eventually will say anything their captors want to hear to escape the pain.
A fabulous scene from “Zero Dark Thirty,” when Jessica Chastain is explaining the mission to the troops who will conduct it, is an example of Director of Photography Greig Fraser’s outstanding cinematography. Image shot with ProCamera app on iPhone4s from seatback screen in UA 935. © SGE, Inc.
THE INFORMATION GAINED in this way is most often false; it is of little intelligence value at all.
If it were not classified, we would know how little “high value” intel has been gleaned from the detainees at Gitmo, many of whom have been subjected to similar treatment at CIA “black spots” around the globe.
Therefore, “Zero Dark Thirty” is based on an entirely false premise. How can the rest of the movie survive this?
Ironically – or perhaps Bigelow has a sense of humor about torture? – this action/drama includes documentary footage of President Barack Obama’s recent vow that “… Americans do not and will not torture.”
What was Bigelow trying to demonstrate by including this clip in the largely dramatic recreation of a major historical event?
Cinematically, it is presented in documentary style. But if the fundamental premise ignores the great body of evidence to the contrary, what remains of the film’s credibility?
Having read a great deal about the controversy when the film was first released last year, I picked it from a menu of choices on the flight from LHR to LAX on Tuesday.
It is definitely worth the 2 hours and 37 minutes it runs. It is brilliantly produced and edited, with awesome cinematography by Greig Fraser.
But, alas, it lacks the core truth so essential to its stated goal of representing “truth.” Sorry, Ms. Bigelow, and co-producers Mark Boal and Megan Ellison. If you want to produce an Academy-award winning docudrama, you have to pay more attention to history and scientific research.