Thursday, 21 March 2013

Zero Dark Thirty.

Another lengthy film at this week’s Robert Burns Centre Film Theatre Film Club, but one that certainly justified its running time. Billed as the greatest manhunt in history for the world’s most dangerous man and introduced by Alec Barclay to a capacity audience. The award winning Zero Dark Thirty (2012) was a tense and exciting watch (even if we did know the ending) that every body seemed to appreciate. It dramatizes the USA’s decade long hunt and subsequent execution of Osama bin Laden leader of a multinational, stateless army known as al-Qaeda who carry out a physical struggle against those they see as enemies of Islam.

Kathryn Bigelow.
The film was directed by Kathryn Bigelow, who was jointly responsible for the production, with the writer of the screenplay, Mark Boal, the same team that collaborated on the Oscar winning film[1] The Hurt Locker (2009). Alec explained to the RBC audience that Bigelow and Boal were in the process of making a film based on the unsuccessful attempt to find bin Laden, and the screenplay was virtually complete when in May 2011 it was announced that bin Laden had been killed in Pakistan. At first it appeared as though they had got a good third act, but this finally became the whole story. Boal was an experienced war correspondent before becoming a screenwriter, and the story is strongly based on his skills as an investigative journalist. Alec went on to explain that the film opened to very mixed responses, with some critics being very vitriolic in their condemnation of the scenes featuring the torture of suspects. The controversy about torture is that some critics (political as well as journalists) saw the film as advocating the success of torture as a means of gaining useful information. In America the hawks branded the director a traitor while doves suggest she supports the efficacy of torture.[2] Even John Pilger wrote that Zero Dark Thirty promotes torture and murder and is directed by, someone he calls ‘the Leni Riefenstahl of our time, promoting her master's voice as did the Fuhrer's pet film-maker’

A group of senators claim that, Zero Dark Thirty makes the ‘clear implication’ that intelligence derived from enhanced interrogations eventually led to finding bin Laden. In a letter to Sony they state: ‘we are fans of your movies and we understand the special role that movies play in our lives, but the fundamental problem is that people will believe that the events it portrays are facts. The film therefore has the potential to shape American public opinion in a disturbing and misleading manor’. As well as the controversy about the films depiction of torture an Academy voter also urged fellow members not to cast a Best Picture vote for the film (American politics!).  

The American administration watch as the action unfolds.
Remarking that the film reportedly appears to take a morally neutral tone to torture, Alec told us that the director states in its defence that she was,’ trying to capture the essence of this decade. Capturing it in a way that would stand the test of time and had we omitted the harsh tactics that would have been whitewashing history. It was definitely a part of that past (administration), but there were many tactics used that resulted in finding the compound in Abbottabad’.

bin Laden is dead........

.......or is he?

Personally I think that the torture scenes are an integral part of the story, but the film makes it quite clear that the use of ‘enhanced interrogations’ did not enable the CIA to track down bin Laden, that, if the film is to be believed, was down to a junior assistant finding overlooked information contained in a discarded file. If you can separate the politics from the film, difficult I know, you end up with a very thrilling and enjoyable movie.

Navy Seals storm bin Laden compound.

Golden Globe winner Jessica Chastain. 

The movie received 5 Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing and Best Sound Editing. But in the end only shared the Oscar for Best Sound Editing with Skyfall. In The Golden Globe Awards Jessica Chastain, who plays the CIA agent Mia, was deservedly given the accolade for being the Best Actress.

[1] Kathryn Bigelow won the Academy Award for Best Director and the film won the Academy Award for Best Picture
[2] Jeff Sawtell 24 Jan 2013

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