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While I’m Waiting For Zero Dark Thirty

[ 55 ] December 18, 2012 |

I’m sure I’ll be returning to these essays once the movie makes it to the provinces, but until then I will note that the debate has inspired some brilliant writing from Glenn Kenny and Manohla Dargis.  (I particularly endorse Glenn’s point about the “standard viewer” fallacy.)

I think the prima facie problems with some of the critcism can be seen in this Jane Mayer post than Glenn links to:

But whether torture “worked” was far from the most important question about its use. I’ve seen the film and, as much as I admired Bigelow’s Oscar-winning picture “The Hurt Locker,” I think that this time, by ignoring the full weight of the dark history of torture, her work falls disturbingly short. To begin with, despite Boal’s contentions, “Zero Dark Thirty” does not capture the complexity of the debate about America’s brutal detention program. It doesn’t include a single scene in which torture is questioned, even though the Bush years were racked by internal strife over just that issue—again, not just among human-rights and civil-liberties lawyers, but inside the F.B.I., the military, the Justice Department, and the C.I.A. itself, which eventually abandoned waterboarding because it feared, correctly, that the act constituted a war crime. None of this ethical drama seems to interest Bigelow.

Here’s the thing: in not wanting to show they complex internal debate about torture within the executive branch, Bigelow (whatever the results, which I still can’t evaluate) is following a very sound instinct. Obviously, this debate is of immense moral and historical importance, for which reason I can’t recommend Mayer’s The Dark Side strongly enough. But trying to do in a fiction film what Mayer’s 400 page nonfiction book does is almost certainly a terrible idea. Putting various position papers about issues of the day into the mouths of characters is about as sure a path to bad art as there is. As I mentioned when this first came up, Robert Redford already made the movie that some of Bieglow’s critics want her to have made about the Iraq War, and the only way it could have been worse is if it had been directed by Joel Schumacher. And of course there’s The Newsroom, also motivated by a desire to tell the audience what to think about national issues of undeniable importance, and an aesthetic train wreck that also tells any reasonably well-informed person nothing they didn’t already know. I don’t think these are exceptions; I think they’re the rule. Art is not apolitical and often carries political insights (good or bad), but these are best accomplished by implication rather than by polemic. The philistine reduction of art to politics generally leads to bad art and useless politics.

To be clear, I’m not making a “you can’t criticize Bigelow for not doing things differently” argument. I’m making a “I’m reluctant to tell a filmmaker to make a film in a way that has about a 99% chance of producing terrible hackwork” argument.

Comments (55)

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  1. Alan in SF says:

    Haven’t seen the film either so I won’t comment on that specifically, but it’s easy to use throwaway — “No, have Gomez do the questioning — Smith isn’t on board,” wink wink — without resorting to having characters toss talking points back and forth. Maybe Zero Dark Thirty could have acknowledged the moral complexity without arguing it.

    • Yuhp.

      It doesn’t include a single scene in which torture is questioned

      show they complex internal debate about torture within the executive branch

      Avoiding the former doesn’t by necessity mean doing the latter. Mayer’s not saying “Be Lions for Lambs.” She’s saying “Don’t be Act of Valor.”

      • ajay says:

        Mayer’s not saying “Be Lions for Lambs.” She’s saying “Don’t be Act of Valor.”

        I saw Act of Valor, and it is a lot better on the torture issue than Zero Dark Thirty: there’s an interrogation scene in which the SEALs manage to get important information out of a suspect without using or even threatening violence, just by being good, empathic interrogators. You couldn’t come away from that film thinking that torture was a good thing or vital in the fight against terror.

        • Well, yeah, because Act of Valor was literally a piece of propaganda that was turned into a theatrical release and which presents a grossly simplified and inaccurate take on its subject matter. Of course drug lords torture and SEALS get information through empathy. I don’t think that makes the movie “better on the torture issue”, just blinkered and reductive in a different way.

  2. david mizner says:

    I don’t think showing some of the internal dissent would have automatically Sorkinized the film. (Surely you’re not saying it’s not possible to make compelling anti-torture film?)

    In any case, you could certainly make a compelling film showing that torture, in fact, set back the hunt for Bin Laden, one that showed how KSM gave bogus intel that led the CIA down the wrong path – that film would have the benefit of being true. (For that matter, you could also make a hell of a film about Al Soufan, the FBI agent who got actionable intel out of Abu Zubayda before the CIA’s torture machine took over, at which point he clammed up. Yes, that would be a different film.)

    Instead she made a film (“almost journalistic” in her words) in which torture produces a key piece of information, this despite the fact that several people with access to classified info say torture did not play a key role in the hunt.

    • KSM gave bogus intel that led the CIA down the wrong path

      In case anyone forgot this: when Khalid Sheik Mohammed was being waterboarded, he was asked about a certain courier. KSM said – under torture – that the courier was a nobody, with no connections to anyone important, and the Bush-era CIA dropped that lead. Later, when the Obama administration reopened the CIA’s bin Laden unit, they decided to go back and look at him again, and it was by following him that that they ultimately discovered the Abbottobad compound.

      • rea says:

        And note–they waterboarded KSM something like 183 times in a single month. If the idea behind torture is that the prisoner will tell you the truth in order to get you to stop, what happens if you demonstrate to him that no matter what he says, you are not going to stop?

        “C’est pire qu’un crime, c’est une faute”

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      Instead she made a film (“almost journalistic” in her words) in which torture produces a key piece of information, this despite the fact that several people with access to classified info say torture did not play a key role in the hunt.

      Based on the descriptions that nobody seems to be contesting, I don’t believe this is accurate. Torture doesn’t produce any useful information; someone who was tortured eventually provides a key lead, but not while being tortured. This is why Greenwald needs his “standard viewer” to make the case that the film is pro-torture.

      • david mizner says:

        Even pro-torture people say suspects tend not to give up info while they’re being tortured; rather they’re broken and they give it up.

        At any rate, you and I must be reading different people. Here, for example, is Frank Bruni:

        it presents the kind of torture that Cheney advocated — but that President Obama ended — as something of an information-extracting necessity, repellent but fruitful.

        Even as David Edelstein, the film critic for New York magazine, named “Zero Dark Thirty” the best movie of 2012 in a recent article, he digressed to say that it “borders on the politically and morally reprehensible,” because it “makes a case for the efficacy of torture.”

        “Enhanced interrogation techniques” like waterboarding are presented as crucial to that search, and it’s hard not to focus on them, because the first extended sequence in the movie shows a detainee being strung up by his wrists, sexually humiliated, deprived of sleep, made to feel as if he’s drowning and shoved into a box smaller than a coffin…

        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.

        http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/09/opinion/sunday/bruni-bin-laden-torture-and-hollywood.html?hp&_r=0

        Guess we should see the movie, then discuss.

  3. The failure of torture to catch bin Laden – the “false negative” from KSM when asked about the courier while being waterboarded, and the decision under the new administration to revisit that lead – is, in my mind, one of the most interesting twists in the story of the CIA’s efforts to track him.

    If they left that out, they missed a chance not only to make a good political statement, but to include a really interesting plot twist.

    • Joe says:

      I haven’t seen the film, but one review (NYT? maybe) noted that they obtained the best intel when they just sat in the room and used non-violent means of interrogation & that the film showed there were false intel that resulted from the interrogation.

      Of course, you get true and false information from torture. Resting on the fear of false information is put out there by some but it’s not realistic. The ultimate reason not to torture is because it is wrong.

      • I don’t think we need to pick one reason to oppose torture.

        • Joe says:

          Sure, but I’m not really immediately concerned about you here. I’m concerned about those who self-assuringly suggest torture doesn’t work and that alone is a reason to not use it. It does sometimes work. It still should be banned.

          Anyway, like Lincoln, might be advisable just to see it and then comment.

          • david mizner says:

            Of course torture can conceivably produce useful intel but rapport-based techniques have a much better chance of doing so, and they’re legal and moral to boot. And the question of whether torture “works” is a broad one; you also have to consider the fact that it’s a great PR and recruiting tool for AQ and generally turns people against the United States.0

            Apparently (I haven’t seen the movie) the only dissenting position comes from President Obama, who’s showing denouncing torture on TV. But according to many, it’s framed in such a way as to cast his statement in a negative light. Peter Bergen says it make him look “prissy.” If so, that’s shameful, considering that President Obama’s order banning torture is one of the high moral points of his presidency.

      • John says:

        The problem isn’t that you can’t get true information from torture. It’s that it’s very difficult to distinguish true information from false.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      If your primary goal was making an anti-torture film, I think that’s how you’d be best to go about it.

  4. TT says:

    Art is not apolitical and often carries political insights (good or bad), but these are best accomplished by implication rather than by polemic. The philistine reduction of art to politics generally leads to bad art and useless politics.

    This cannot be emphasized enough. When a film repeatedly hits the viewer over the head with its intended political or social message, the result is an exercise in self-congratulation–for ones boldness, social conscience, etc.

    It’s the reason why for me, Spielberg nearly ruined Schindler’s List with the final ten minutes by allowing the message to subsume the story and its characters; it diluted what up that point was a film all the more powerful for its narrative restraint. He decided at the last minute that he couldn’t let the story speak for itself, couldn’t trust the audience enough to understand what it had just seen. I still think it’s a terrific movie, with a regrettable lapse at the end.

    By contrast two of my favorites, My Left Foot and Dead Man Walking, never give in to this temptation. They trust you to understand what you’ve been watching from start to finish.

    • jeer9 says:

      There’s nothing wrong with a filmmaker re-emphasizing a point that he fears the audience may have overlooked, as long as it isn’t too heavy-handed. In one of my favorite films of the past twenty years, To Live, Zhang Yimou worries that viewers will not realize that responsibility for the death of the mute daughter lies not solely with Mao’s Cultural Revolution (and his arrest of physicians), but with the parents themselves who, in their expression of compassion for the starving doctor, bring about his incapacitation.

      So we have the final scene at the gravesite and the baby chicks which are put into the old puppet box which signifies Art and the ancient story the father once told his son whose conclusion is then altered. It is this Greek (Sophoclean) understanding of irony that makes the film deeply tragic and why Communist ideology felt so threatened by such a message.

      I will be disheartened if Bigelow’s film glorifies (or even qualifies) torture – as The Hurt Locker seemed the product of a more complex and nuanced artist.

      • Scott Lemieux says:

        In one of my favorite films of the past twenty years, To Live, Zhang Yimou worries that viewers will not realize that responsibility for the death of the mute daughter lies not solely with Mao’s Cultural Revolution (and his arrest of physicians), but with the parents themselves who, in their expression of compassion for the starving doctor, bring about his incapacitation.

        ANother excellent example.

        I will be disheartened if Bigelow’s film glorifies (or even qualifies) torture – as The Hurt Locker seemed the product of a more complex and nuanced artist.

        As far as I can tell, the idea that the film “glorifies” torture is specious. At best, it seems possible to claim that the film isn’t clearly anti-torture enough/

      • TT says:

        I haven’t seen To Live but your point about heavy-handedness is what I’m trying to get at. In my view these types of films are much more affecting when the “message” takes a bit of a backseat to the story itself. That way it can be woven much more deftly and/or subtly into the story and its characters.

        • jeer9 says:

          I cannot recommend To Live highly enough. Students occasionally criticize the film’s use of irony as making the plot predictable but it is instrumental to Yimou’s larger theme about the hubris of all-encompassing state control and the invasion of politics into every intimate aspect of family life (unlike, say, Crash, whose irony was far too often forced and wildly improbable). The wedding scene in which wooden praise of Mao is coercively sung remains a comic gem.

  5. T. Paine says:

    As I recall from Jane Mayer’s book, the real-life red-haired female CIA agent had a rather unseemly taste (enjoyment, even) of the torture. Although, there was also something of a whiff of misogyny lurking behind the descriptions, like the boys being interviewed could only approach how disgusting the torture was by ascribing a desire for observing it to a woman.

    Anyway, I think I’ll be skipping this one, just like I skipped Flight 93.

  6. Jason says:

    I dunno, Scott. I imagine pre-Lincoln, someone might have said that doing a movie about behind-closed-door efforts to cajole House members into passing the 13th amendment was “almost certainly a terrible idea”, the sort of thing best left to books by Caro or what have you. But it turns out it wasn’t a terrible idea.

    Of course Bigelow’s not Spielberg, and one makes the movies one can make given one’s sensibility and tools. But you seem to be pushing an implausibly constricted view about the kinds of content movies can effectively portray.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      I dunno, Scott. I imagine pre-Lincoln, someone might have said that doing a movie about behind-closed-door efforts to cajole House members into passing the 13th amendment was “almost certainly a terrible idea”, the sort of thing best left to books by Caro or what have you. But it turns out it wasn’t a terrible idea.

      Maybe. I’m actually pretty skeptical about whether Speilberg and Kushner pulled it off, but I’ll keep an open mind.

      • John says:

        How many movies has Scott made several posts about in the last few months without bothering to see them? Lincoln has been out for a month now! Go see it!

        I’d add that, while there are perhaps some weak spots in the film, the stuff about pushing the 13th Amendment through the House is pretty clearly, along with Day-Lewis’s performance, the best stuff in the movie.

    • Ed says:

      Many in Hollywood were indeed skeptical. Spielberg with Kushner took a chance and succeeded; “Lincoln” is a critical and popular hit, holding its own very well at the box office with the aid of adult moviegoers.

  7. Kurzleg says:

    Putting various position papers about issues of the day into the mouths of characters is about as sure a path to bad art as there is.

    At the risk of pointing out the obvious, a skilled writer and a skilled director could find plenty of ways short of this to deliver the message. That’s not to say that it’s easy or likely to get funding, but it’s definitely possible. Did “The Bicycle Thief” contain various position papers about the post-war struggle of the average man?

  8. jon says:

    Heavy handed agit-prop is usually a laughingly bad idea. And so is departing from the factual record in a film that is supposedly reality based.

    The factual record seems to be pretty clear that there was no useful intelligence gleaned as a result of waterboarding anyone. And every scrap of confession obtained had to be parsed with the concern that it was provided simply to make the torture stop. Unreliable data is not your friend when you’re trying to make progress in a hurry.

    But the facts seems to establish that this movie is creating a narrative which is not borne out by any evidence. This is somewhat immaterial to the main objective of the movie, and also seems to complicate or reduce the dramatic urgency of some of the main characters. I would say (sight unseen) that the heft of the movie has suffered from trying to make the narrative fit a view which has not been established by the facts.

    • T. Paine says:

      It’s not a documentary, in case you weren’t aware.

    • Vance Maverick says:

      Can’t quite tell when you’re using “narrative” in the figurative sense (e.g. the narrative of a political campaign), and when in the literal. But even so, your claim that “departing from the factual record in a film that is supposedly reality based” is a “bad idea” is a mere assertion. If you want to claim it’s bad in this movie, make an argument about this movie. If you want to claim it’s bad in general, you’ll need even more evidence and theory.

    • Julian says:

      It’s a laughably bad idea … if … ? You sort of trailed off. Straying from the factual record might be a very good idea if you want to make a lot of money.

      Are we talking morality here?

    • Kurzleg says:

      I don’t know if it’s a bad idea, but the unspoken premise here is that straying from the factual improves the film. Or at least that’s the impression I’m getting. There are plenty of examples of where shrewdness is portrayed in films very effectively and entertainingly (Hannibal Lecter, anyone?), so I’m not too sympathetic to the implication that a film “has to” divert from the factual (or the spirit of the factual) in order to be good entertainment.

  9. Johnny Sack says:

    Right, but re your last sentence, you can definitely criticize it for presenting torture almost unquestioningly and perpetuating the awful canard that torture was instrumental in finding bin laden as the unvarnished truth. I don’t think it should have been a documentary, but it definitely could have been treated with more complexity. It’s not a limitation of art, it’s a limitation of the artist.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      you can definitely criticize it for presenting torture almost unquestioningly and perpetuating the awful canard that torture was instrumental in finding bin laden as the unvarnished truth

      Except for the fact that this seems to be completely false. The serious critics have all said that the lead was not obtained through torture (although that person had been tortured earlier.) I don’t know how that presented set of facts can translate into “torture was instrumental.”

      • The serious critics have all said that the lead was not obtained through torture (although that person had been tortured earlier.)

        Nope.

        Besides your own link to Jane Mayer’s review, there’s Peter Bergen:

        After the detainee Ammar is systematically abused by his CIA captors in “Zero Dark Thirty,” he is tricked into believing that he has already inadvertently given up key information about al Qaeda as a result of all the abuse and sleep deprivation that he has undergone.

        And Badass Digest’s review:

        That guy in the opening scene, the guy who wouldn’t crack even when shoved in a tiny box, gives [Jessica Chastain's Maya] the name after she tricks him. He withheld the information about the Saudi massacre, but since he’s in custody, he doesn’t know that the attack was successful. And because he’s disoriented he’s not sure whether or not he actually gave up the information. Maya tells him that he did, and that the attack was stopped, and resigned he begins giving up some information. Most of it wasn’t of interest, but that one name became the lead that changed the hunt.

        His disorientation, caused by the torture, made him more susceptible

        Every review I’ve seen that discusses this scene depicts it as torture providing the opportunity in getting the information. Torture as part of a toolkit to get detainees to reveal information.

        And this depiction works exactly according to a standard pro-torture argument. It wears down the victims so that they can’t evade giving up information; they don’t know what questions have been asked, or what they said previously; they don’t have the mental strength or dexterity to keep up a false story; they don’t have the fortitude to withstand continued abuse when presented with demoralizing information; they’re more susceptible to kindness and generosity when it’s contrasted with their agony under torture.

        So: we have an incident (made-up out of whole cloth by the filmmakers) in which the role of torture in getting a key piece of information plays out a standard pro-torture argument for the way torture can work. How is this not a presentation of torture that shows it has a role to play in gathering information?

        Plus, besides this scene Jane Mayer points out other ways in which the film depicts torture as having a role to play in acquiring information.

    • Paula says:

      I think the point is that Kenny didn’t see it glorifying anything of the sort, whereas Greenwald did. And Greenwald chalks up the difference in perception to moral or psychological ineptitude or hiding behind the “art” defense.

      That last is a common argument for the feckless — please, help the masses consume only the right and true things so that we don’t have to do the work of teaching them how to think things through.

      It’s the intellectual observer’s version of “it’s all the violent video games”.

      • Kurzleg says:

        By all accounts the incident in question isn’t factual. So why include it? I assume Bigelow and Boal mean it to represent the fact that torture didn’t accomplish what shrewd questioning did. But the problem is that by preceding the shrewd questioning with torture one could reasonably conclude that the preceding torture was integral to the shrewd questioning. Point being, if we assume they were attempting to demonstrate the inefficacy of torture, they needlessly undermine their point.

        • Paula says:

          I don’t know whether your description (or anyone else’s) is actually true or not because I haven’t seen it. And I assume that when I have seen it, I may not necessarily come out with the same interpretation.

          WHICH. IS. THE. POINT. There is no standard viewer. There is no standard interpretation. So why tell someone who’s got a different interpretation that he’s some kind of immoral jerk for NOT having seen the same thing you did?

        • T. Paine says:

          Right. You may not have heard, but this isn’t a documentary.

  10. HP says:

    Okay, I’m neither a cineaste nor a political scientist, but it seems to me that there’s a meaningful comparison to be made between Zero Dark Thirty (which I haven’t seen) and The Battle for Algiers (which I have seen and love). I just don’t think I’m qualified to make that comparison.

    Points of interest about The Battle for Algiers:

    - Graphic depictions of torture, including waterboarding, are shown being used to successfully obtain intelligence about a terrorist network that leads to the arrest, detention, and execution of the leaders.

    - The final act of the film depicts the blowback from the successful use of torture. (SPOILER: Algeria is no longer a département of France.)

    - Apparently, The Battle for Algiers was screened at the White House in 2002/2003. Records do not show whether cabinet members stayed awake the whole time.

    - France declined to join Bush’s Coalition of the Willing for some reason. Perhaps it’s related to cheese consumption.

    - The film is an esthetic and political masterpiece, provided that you are not swimming in cognitive dissonance.

    But I’m a dilettante at these things. Can anyone with real foreign policy/history/film theory expertise weigh in?

    • Paula says:

      France isn’t covering itself in glory in those scenes, which, if ZDT is similar, means that the U.S. won’t look great either.

      The Battle of Algiers is on the side of the insurgents, as the director clearly stated where his sympathies lay and one of the men who was involved with the FLN actually produced the film. It was banned in France for a number of years. It’s a picture that is aligned with the general anti-colonial sentiment in the developing world during the sixties.

      The fact that it turned into some kind of training document for the CIA is ironic, to say the least. But it just goes to show that very good works or art can produce ambivalence when it comes to political messaging.

      • HP says:

        Agreed on all points. I hope my snarky tone didn’t mask my sympathies as well. But the fact is, I do see myself as a dilettante who likes watching Italian films and reading about liberal/left politics from people who are smarter than me. And SEK’s original point about how torture could or should be portrayed in film départementimmediately put in mind of The Battle for Algiers, which I think does what SEK describes.

      • HP says:

        Agreed on all points. I hope my snarky tone didn’t mask my sympathies as well. But the fact is, I do see myself as a dilettante who likes watching Italian films and reading about liberal/left politics from people who are smarter than me. And Scott’s original point about how torture could or should be effectively portrayed in film immediately put me in mind of The Battle for Algiers, which I think does what Scott describes, but also provides some evidence that certain classes of viewers (e.g., CIA, State) will see something that the filmmaker didn’t intend.

  11. Paula says:

    Actually, Bigelow was subject to some grilling over The Hurt Locker from Iraq veterans who thought her portrayal was negative.

    I really hate these conversations, not only because these are really difficult issues about art, politics, and responsibility are hard to process. These are where I personally start to fall away from a lot of people whom I would call my political brethren, who seemingly want art to be merely another vessel for activism. Which, in my eyes, makes them exactly like the conservative culture warriors. Not that art isn’t political, but they can all seemingly reject or support art solely on whether it lines up with their POV in an exact way.

    That aside, ” “Glenn Greenwald’s writing isn’t ‘activist journalism,’ it’s whey-faced self-aggrandizing puling self-righteousness that holds everything and everybody save Greenwald and his claque to an impossible moral standard,”” makes me want to shower Glenn Kenny in flower petals.

  12. ToBon says:

    “As far as I can tell…” Speaks volumes. So Jane Mayer and Glenn Greenwald (among many others) have seen the film and believe it glorifies torture while you, who haven’t seen it, believe such claims are specious. Weak.

    • Paula says:

      I believe they are responding to Glenn Kenny’s argument, which doesn’t actually require that you see the film in order to recognize its validity as an argument. Because the discussion is about more abstract notions of how art and activism intersect and less about about what is specifically in Zero Dark Thirty.

      • Ed says:

        Because the discussion is about more abstract notions of how art and activism intersect and less about about what is specifically in Zero Dark Thirty.

        And someone like Jane Mayer is writing specifically about what’s specifically in Zero Dark Thirty, which is what the argument is about in the first place.

        I think Kenny has gone a little too far out on this particular limb, but he too has seen the movie and is writing from that knowledge.

  13. Paula says:

    Aaaaaand … Freddie deBoer showed up to lambaste Devin Faraci, calling himself “an old hand in these debates” and citing his credentials as being “cited by Greenwald and Oliver Stone and others”.

    [BONERS]

  14. herr doktor bimler says:

    in not wanting to show they complex internal debate about torture within the executive branch,

    I am willing to believe that there were voices within the Cheney administration saying “Hey, perhaps the Gestapo is not the group we want to emulate. What matters is that they were overruled or ignored.

  15. Dave says:

    I think The Dark Knight does a decent job confronting the issue of torture.
    You can’t really have Batman waterboarding the Joker. So I think Nolan wanted to take it as far as the character would allow. And even though we know the ticking time bomb scenario is bullshit in real life, it shows how ineffective “torture” is in that situation. The Joker only gives up information because he wants Batman to choose which life to save. But he gives bad information, which is what real intelligence officials will tell you is what you get. And the consequences are that Batman doesn’t save the day.

  16. Walt says:

    So if it’s too hard to portray that torture is wrong, then why include it at all? What is the point of including an (apparently made-up) scene of torture, if it’s too hard to get across that torture is wrong? Just because torture is so cinematic?

  17. scott says:

    You can word-salad this all you want, but this film didn’t need to portray torture positively or as helpful for getting OBL because it’s undisputed that it wasn’t. So a film touting its quasi-journalistic allegiance to truth decided to portray something that was factually misleading when they didn’t have to. They made a choice – hey, let’s make torture look positive or useful. Neither the facts nor any particular artistic consideration that I’m aware of made them do it; they just decided that they would. So why mount the typical, OTT LGM-style defense of people who made that choice and wanted to communicate that Torture Works/Is Good? Because (after literally thousands of words) you haven’t explained why progressives should defend that rather than criticize it.

  18. C.S says:

    I’m not making a “you can’t criticize Bigelow for not doing things differently” argument. I’m making a “I’m reluctant to tell a filmmaker to make a film in a way that has about a 99% chance of producing terrible hackwork” argument.

    Particularly given the body of work of this particular filmmaker. I can’t even imagine how brazen I would have to tell Katherine Bigelow how to do her job. I’m fine with critiquing the outcome, but not with dictating from the outset.

    If, however, it was Chris Columbus . . .

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