Saturday, January 19, 2013

zero dark thirty review

we saw zero dark thirty last night.  i was sort of hesitant because i'd heard the accusations of it glorifying torture, defenses against that, reviews from people that loved it, reviews from those that didn't and so on.  eventually, i figured that i would see the movie at some point and make my own judgements.  so here those are.

first, i'd say it doesn't glorify torture.  i also wouldn't say that it was ambiguous about torture either. let me put it this way, the movie goes like this, and since it's based off of real events, i'm not spoiling anything for those that haven't seen it, unless you're unaware of the last decade of news.
1. the US captured al queda members and held them around the world in secret prisons
2. the US used enhanced interrogation techniques (torture) to get info from them
3. the reliability of the information gathered was questioned
4. the US stopped (?) using these techniques
5. the US found and killed osama bin laden

so, while the film doesn't directly say that the info gained through torture directly lead to bin laden, it leans that way, in my opinion.  it is a bit unclear, because some of the turns in the movie happen through little clips of detainee interviews, and we don't always know if that is an interview of someone subject to enhanced interrogation.  also, there are some bits that seem to be gained through the techniques that lead to negative outcomes in the film.  in some ways, there is the element where the movie is chronicling what we did, chronicling the outcome, and in that sense we could think of it as it just being presented.  this is what happened all along the points, we're not saying that one thing led to the other.  but, it felt to me that there was a bit more of the former, that the positive outcome of the while tail was predicated by the things we did along the way.

let me do similar historical breakdown of argo, another CIA movie out this last year:
1. there was an islamic revolution in iran
2. the US embassy was overtaken, and US citizens were taken hostage, but some escaped to the canadian embassy
3. the CIA came up with several bunk plots to get them out, finally settling on the movie plan
4. the movie plan worked

i don't think i'm shorting that plot too much, but i know argo came under critique because it didn't give the canadian gov't enough credit for the work they did in the situation.

let's combine that last thought with my thoughts on argo - there's an element of we don't know how much is reality, and how much has been shaped for film, what's still being redacted by the government, and so on.  and i know that zero dark has gotten a bit of critique for passing it off as "the factual account" of what happened.

overall, i liked the film.  it was well made, it's well acted, and it's an important story.  i did think it was a bit long at points, and the marketing leans a lot heavier on the final part to get bin laden than on the majority of what actually happens in the film, but that's pretty common in advertising.  i was impressed by how quiet the theater got during the film, especially during the last 1/3.  incredibly still in there (although the jackass in front of us did check his phone with about ten minutes left - cue dramatic finale and distracting amount of light right in front of me).  i was also surprised that only one person clapped when bin laden was killed - surprised and pleased.  i say that last part because of the reality of the film, and i don't think we should celebrate killing a real person like we're chearing rocky over drago.

so, good film.  i think it's on par with argo in quality, which i enjoyed.  but i thought django unchained was better than both of those (yes, i realized that is a completely different style of film).

1 comment:

Adam said...

Quasi-spoilers follow:

I would also add that while the film leans towards the use of torture as ultimately successful, it also highlights the successes and failures of non-torture techniques. You have the failure of the cake-baking agent who was hoping to acquire information from a voluntary informant and you have the success of acquiring a phone number by way of purchasing an expensive sports car.

While you're left with the sense that torture was in some ways successful, you're also left with the sense that other methods were useful too.