Monday, December 24, 2012


"Because we're all that bad if given half a chance. We're all about as decent and humane as the next guy until circumstances and dark guidance bring out our inner monster."

The above is film reviewer/blogger Jeffrey Wells ( discussing Errol Morris' Abu Ghraib torture documentary STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE in 2008.

Cut to 2012.

"Are you going to tell me that if your son or daughter has been kidnapped and is being held in some secret, all-but-impossible-to-discover location and might possibly be killed if you don't find him/her...are you going to tell me that if you've captured a close accomplice of the kidnappers who refuses to talk...are you going to tell me that all you're going to do is take this guy out to lunch and feed him hummus and tomatoes, and if that doesn't work you're going to take him out for drinks and then set him up with $5000-a-night prostitute in hopes that he'll reveal the location?"
[I'm omitting a swipe at "Hollywood liberals" (plus Alex Gibney, who directed the anti-torture documentary TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE,) and fast-forwarding to Wells' end sentence.]
"It's moments like these when I'm less than proud to be a lefty. Because the way the liberal Hollywood mob is ganging up on this film is appalling, and close to disgusting. A bunch of sensitive pantywaists towing the sensitive-liberal p.c. line."--Wells in support of Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal's nondocumentary of the pursuit and killing of Osama bin Laden, ZERO DARK THIRTY.

It's not just Jeffrey Wells; other film critics including Glenn Kenny and veteran (and highly readable) wiseass Tom Carson are whipping filmmakers like Gibney and columnists like Glenn Greenwald (plus U.S. Senators) for pointing out inaccuracies in a film conceived as a docudrama (fiction and fact blended together), making political points, and not remembering "it's just a movie."  In addition: the allegations that Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal may have been co-opted by CIA pro-torture hardliners in preparing the ZERO DARK THIRTY screenplay.

Sony is almost certainly cheering the see-it-and-decide-for-yourself controversy over a film [I'll see it sometime during its' theatrical run] which, apparently due to a surface replication of Bigelow and Boal's "nonpolitical" approach to the Iraq War in THE HURT LOCKER, may turn out to have the greatest popular appeal of Bigelow's entire filmography (including NEAR DARK, POINT BREAK and STRANGE DAYS).

Tom Carson namechecked THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS in his ruminations on ZERO DARK THIRTY.  It may remain for audiences (short-and-long-memoried alike) to decide if ZDT becomes a multigenerational war film classic--or this generation's MISSISSIPPI BURNING (the semi-forgotten Alan Parker-directed 1988 docudrama which adopted an FBI-centric, civil-rights-leaders-free view of the fight against white Southern racism in the 1960s).

Let's end with this observation from HOLLYWOOD ELSEWHERE commenter "Otto":

The feigned outrage against "Stalinists seeking to quell artistic freedom" is about as genuine and coherent as the NRA's outrage that "they want to take away our guns.'
Just as no one wants to ban all guns, no one is seriously challenging the director's artistic license to depict what she wants. They are criticizing the film's claims that it's based upon fact and yet employs post-hoc logic connecting torture and intelligence that led to UBL's location. And they are criticizing the chest-pounding basement dwellers whose interrogation experience is confined to a Taco Bell drive-through, but who nonetheless delight in their insistence that torture is an effective intelligence tool.
Invoking Stalin is inapt, as Stalin effectively censored dissenters. People criticizing Zero Dark Thirty are not preventing anyone from making a movie of their choosing. Rather, like the filmmakers, they are expressing their opinions.

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