Well, it looks like I’ll have to cast the deciding vote. [UPDATE: Here's my new piece, as promised.]
For months I’ve read about, tweeted and posted early and late trailers for Zero Dark Thirty, and covered the controversy over whether it would help Obama before the election (and hence the postponement of its release until after it). Now it’s been picking up year-end awards—and I’ll finally watch a preview screening tonight. Then I’ll weigh in on the current controversy, which I’ve dubbed “Zero Dark Dirty.” So what follows below is fairly sketchy.
While the subject of the Kathryn Bigelow film was no secret, how it was executed—so to speak—remained under wraps until the past week, when more reviewers and pundits finally got to see it. The first major response to the role of torture in the film came from Frank Bruni in a tough column two days ago at the NYT.
He suggested that it’s a movie Dick Cheney would love (Zero Darth Vader?), that it backs the torture policy that Obama quit, and more: “It’s about finding a needle in a uniquely messy and menacing haystack.
“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.
Glenn Greenwald in his new Guardian column also hit the movie on its pro-torture message. He hasn’t seen it but he dissected reviews and coverage and quotes from its creators, which suggested to him that they rely on “CIA lies” about the role torture played in getting bin Laden.
Then, on Monday, Spencer Ackerman at Wired disagreed strongly with Greenwald and Bruni and others, saying the torture scenes are the best parts of the movie, as they show that torture is horrible and useless: “Zero Dark Thirty does not present torture as a silver bullet that led to bin Laden; it presents torture as the ignorant alternative to that silver bullet.”