Written by Craig Kennedy
What do you do when you have, what I and many think, is the best American movie of the year and it also turns out to be the most controversial movie of the year? That’s Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal’s Zero Dark Thirty for those of you keeping score at home. In a vacuum, it probably doesn’t matter, but in the Oscar bubble, it could be the deciding factor between a win and a loss. The irony is that the source of its greatness and the source of the controversy are the same thing. It’s the film’s unwillingness to take a moral stance on the horrors it shows you that has everyone up in arms, but it’s also what transforms the film from simply being a good movie into something much more.
To be fair, it’s not simply Zero Dark Thirty‘s amorality that is troubling. That just compounds the problem of factual inaccuracy. Its detractors will argue specifically that the film makes the case that torture was an effective tool in finding the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden and that this is demonstrably incorrect and therefore dangerous. I’m still not convinced the film makes all that clear of a case, nor am I convinced that torture doesn’t or didn’t provide useful intelligence, despite what Congressional hearings on the matter have concluded. It’s almost impossible to prove a negative, but the argument that “torture doesn’t work” is a much cleaner and more compelling argument for anti-torture activists to make than “torture is wrong.” Here’s the thing though: even if you accept that Zero Dark Thirty is factually incorrect, it is still a powerful, brilliant film and perhaps the most important to come out of the “War on Terror” so far.