"Zero Dark Thirty" is one of the year's most lauded films. Kathryn Bigelow's follow-up to "The Hurt Locker" focuses on the decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden, and has already been named the best movie of 2012 by the New York Film Critics Circle, National Board of Review, Boston Society of Film Critics and even Huffington Post. In addition to being a monumental piece of filmmaking, however, "Zero Dark Thirty" is also a lightning rod for controversy.
During the filming, Republican Congressman Peter King claimed Bigelow and writer Mark Boal received inside information and classified documents from the Obama administration; now, columnists like the New York Times' Frank Bruni, are questioning whether the film is pro-enhanced interrogation. Wrote Bruni in the Sunday Times:
[T]he torture sequence immediately follows a bone-chilling, audio-only prologue of the voices of terrified Americans trapped in the towering inferno of the World Trade Center. It’s set up as payback.
And by the movie’s account, it produces information vital to the pursuit of the world’s most wanted man. No waterboarding, no Bin Laden: that’s what “Zero Dark Thirty” appears to suggest. And the intelligence agents involved in torture seem not so much relieved as challenged by Obama’s edict that it stop. Their quest for leads just got that much more difficult.
While the film doesn't make a specific case for the use of torture -- there are no lengthy speeches about the moral implication of torture, nor about its actual effectiveness -- "Zero Dark Thirty" co-star Jason Clarke did find use for some of the tactics during his research. Clarke plays "Dan" in the film, an interrogation specialist who participates in the extended torture sequence that opens the film. According to Clarke, he was actually waterboarded on set as part of his preparation.
"[I]t's a lot different when you know it can be stopped, and people are there to make sure nothing bad happens," Clarke told Showbiz 411, before later adding that "it's not something you ever want to do." Said Clarke: "But I wanted to understand the experience."
As for whether the film was made with the intent to show torture in a positive light, Bigelow kept things in "Zero Dark Thirty" to first-hand accounts. She told The New Yorker that "the film doesn't have an agenda, and it doesn't judge." However, per The New Yorker, the key waterboarding scene may have been expanded beyond what actually happened.
According to several official sources, including Dianne Feinstein, the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the identity of bin Laden’s courier, whose trail led the C.I.A. to the hideout in Pakistan, was not discovered through waterboarding. 'It's a movie, not a documentary,' Boal said. 'We're trying to make the point that waterboarding and other harsh tactics were part of the C.I.A. program.'
"Zero Dark Thirty" is out on Dec. 19 in limited release; the film opens nationwide on Jan. 11, 2013.