*Zero Dark Thirty*

by on January 20, 2013 at 9:40 am in Film | Permalink

I didn’t think much of it.  Take away the topic and the controversy over the torture and it is quite an ordinary movie, albeit with less sparkle and character development than even a lot of standard Hollywood fare.  It fails to be thoughtful on its main issues, no matter what your point of view.  The technical execution of the compound-storming scene is very good, but that virtue shows the movie itself to reflect some of the weaknesses of its parent nation — the United States — namely in having good military technique but a weak grasp of the broader issues and little interest in going deep.

I don’t regret having seen it, but I would regret it even less had they not made it in the first place.

1 Andrew' January 20, 2013 at 9:48 am

My main takeaway from The Hurt Locker is how bad most other movies are. And I watch movies because TV is so wildly terrible.

2 Matt January 20, 2013 at 9:58 am

I felt the same way. I think part of the reason there is so much discussion over the torture is that there is little else of note about the movie to talk about.

As for the The Hurt Locker, my main takeaway from it was how unrealistic the characters felt in comparison to TV’s Generation Kill.

3 Boris January 20, 2013 at 10:33 am

The movie being more or less a technical exercise recounting of the path to Bin Laden, a decision to focus on prolonged character development would be a serious detraction rather than any virtue. True the torture scenes were exaggerated and the political scenes were absurd but not even discounting for those flaws Zero Dark Thirty was my favorite of the last year. Also, enhanced interrogation techniques (but not waterboarding) did get the info that led to the courier – yet we let our desire for righteousness blind us to truth.

4 Enrique January 20, 2013 at 10:57 am

When I saw the film last Friday, I noticed that no one applauded when Bin Laden was finally murdered by the US special forces — yes, the movie confirms that the raid to capture Bin Laden was really an execution — payback for Sept. 11 — yet haven’t our drones killed as many civilians as died on Sept. 11?

5 Alexei Sadeski January 20, 2013 at 11:01 am

Bin Laden was executed to limit terrorist propaganda opportunities.

6 mulp January 20, 2013 at 11:22 am

In September 2001, unending global war on individuals was declared by Congress.

War is carried out by the military killing people.

War is military force killing people, and definitely not execution, because war has nothing to do with justice.

Why people refuse to acknowledge the 12 year declared unending global war on individuals is beyond me. Perhaps no one wants to admit that Congress has the power to declare war, unending war, and declare war on anyone or anything any where in the universe.

Perhaps the point is people refuse to admit that war is fundamentally all about the military killing people. Maybe a sense of injustice or quest for justice leads to a declaration of war, but the reaction on September 12, 2001 was not to justice, but to revenge, and war is the big dog of revenge because you get to kill without worrying about justice.

And it is the President’s duty as Commander in Chief to execute the unending global war on individuals declared in 2001 to the best of his ability, until Congress ends that war.

7 veobaum January 20, 2013 at 4:02 pm

well said

8 Rahul January 20, 2013 at 11:57 am

War shouldn’t be judged exclusively by casualty counts, civilian or otherwise.

9 Willitts January 20, 2013 at 8:02 pm

OK, we’ve avenged Pearl Harbor. Time to go home! Those Nazis learned their lesson.

Yes, you’ve identified one of the silliest anti-war arguments that gained an unusual and disturbing amount of traction.

10 collin January 21, 2013 at 11:50 am

I like your point but your history is like Bluto’s great rally cry…”Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor!”

11 Major January 20, 2013 at 9:11 pm

haven’t our drones killed as many civilians as died on Sept. 11?

I don’t know. Have they?

12 J1 January 21, 2013 at 3:38 pm

That was my first thought too. I doubt it’s even possible to answer that question, as with few exceptions (e.g. infants) there’s no way of knowing for certain whether anyone killed by a drone actually was a civilian.

13 Andrew' January 20, 2013 at 11:03 am

I suspect there is some just-so story to it. Yes, you can find some individual on the globe. Should we? It seems a lot of crap went into finding someone GW claims he didn’t spend much time thinking about. Then, if and when we find this individual, we will have found him somehow. At least 5-8 years to come up with his courier is awfully helter-skelter. That is certainly a horrible and unreliable case for torture if it is supposed to be. The actual evaluation of something is not whether it “works” (and this barely does, IF it really does) but the cost (including righteousness). How is possible that tortured information can still be good after possibly 8 years? That indicates that the job was too easy to prove much value versus cost. Maybe their assessment of Bin Laden’s symbolism value is not the same as our assessment of his symbolism value.

How many dead-end movies didn’t get made? How much information was obtained completely divorced from ANY enhanced interrogation techniques? How much of the information was contradictory?

“Contradicting the claims by Salahi that al-Kuwaiti had died in December 2001”

How much did that information cost versus alternative methods, like just finding more guys with flash drives and CDs

14 mulp January 20, 2013 at 11:33 am

Obviously torture works. Just like in 24, two hours after the torture, bin Laden was dead.

You can’t trot out the ticktock ticking time bomb justification as false just because two hours movie time was a decade in real time. President Bush authorized torture to get bin Laden before he ran for reelection. And obviously he did because he was reelected.

Don’t try to argue torture does not work as advertised.

Bigelow knew better than to argue torture does not work.

Only out-of-touch radical leftist liberal elites like you would be be so anti-American to suggest torture does not work.

15 Andrew' January 20, 2013 at 11:50 am

“Only out-of-touch radical leftist liberal elites like you would be be so anti-American to suggest torture does not work.”

Ha! The jokes on you!

But seriously, noone should argue something so undefinable does or doesn’t work, but what is the cost? The torture story is the shortest distance to the drama for something like “24” but BILLIONS of dollars of non-torture stuff went into it too.

16 affenkopf January 20, 2013 at 2:20 pm

Also, enhanced interrogation techniques (but not waterboarding) did get the info that led to the courier – yet we let our desire for righteousness blind us to truth.

Do you have a source for this? Also please stop using this disgusting newspeak. You can argue for torture but you should at least have the balls to call it that.

17 Boris January 20, 2013 at 5:45 pm

From Jose Rodriguez (head of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center from 2002 to 2004 and then director of the National Clandestine Service until late 2007):

“The first substantive information about the courier came in 2004 from a detainee who received some enhanced interrogation techniques but was not waterboarded.”


As to my balls, or lack of balls, I am glad that there are gutsy people who are unafraid to combine subcategories of action into their preferred term encompassing whatever mood affiliation they may have. There’s a difference between sleep deprivation (or whatever methods were used) and pulling out prisoners’ fingernails – but perhaps such a distinction is too mentally draining to maintain.

18 Andrew' January 21, 2013 at 4:52 am

The CIA are professional liars by the way. And was that the guy who was on 50 minutes? I could tell he was a sheister. Do you really need to ask yourself why a spook is on a national news show?

But the point remains, from some form of enhanced interrogation they got a nickname. Everything else came from NOT torture.

19 Wonks Anonymous January 21, 2013 at 12:11 pm

The heads of the Senate’s Intelligence Committee, Armed Service Committee, the CIA itself and an FBI agent involved in the hunt have all contradicted Rodriguez. The screenwriter of the movie responded to criticism of the accuracy of portraying torture as integral by noting that it’s just a movie rather than a documentary.


20 Boris January 21, 2013 at 2:10 pm

al-Qahtani (the “20th hijacker”) was subject to extreme interrogation as was Hassan Ghul, and both revealed information about al-Kuwaiti (the courier), although the public does not know the exact date at which that information was provided. As per Peter Bergen:


Any claim either that KSM’s waterboarding or al-Libi’s led to the al-Kuwaiti – yes that claim is false.

21 Willitts January 20, 2013 at 7:58 pm

Is there a bright line between torture and not torture? Just because someone is on the other side of your line doesn’t make them wrong.

I specialized in the Law of War, and while I believe that waterboarding does violate international treaties on the humane treatment of prisoners and hence is unlawful, I would not categorize it as torture.

The people who conducted water boarding had to undergo water boarding. Did they torture themselves?

22 Major January 20, 2013 at 9:24 pm

Is there a bright line between torture and not torture?

No. Torture is defined in law in terms of “severe” pain. What’s the minimum degree of pain that qualifies as severe for the purposes of the law? No one knows. What types of pain qualify as severe? No one knows. There hasn’t even been a legal ruling on whether waterboarding, as conducted by U.S. government agents, qualifies as torture.

23 Willitts January 21, 2013 at 2:32 am

A lot of people here, on both sides, seem to think there is a bright line. The only person who knows is the jurist who decides the matter.That is Scalia’s point. With the exception of the US, UK and a few other nations, war crime trials have always been victor’s justice.

But international treaties are unambiguous about treatment resulting in psychological harm or fear of death. But there is no world court that would touch this.

24 affenkopf January 21, 2013 at 1:30 am

Do you seriously believe undergoing waterboarding under controlled conditions by people you know will stop and waterboarding as a POW done by a hostile power is the same? Also: Every time someone else has waterboarded prisoners (whether in WWIII or Vietnam) the US has qualified it as torture.

25 Willitts January 21, 2013 at 2:45 am

No, I don’t seriously believe they are the same and didn’t equate them.But for those who define “torture” on some obscure threshold of pain, then even voluntary submission to waterboarding would be torture.

Torture is a word that America-haters and Bush-haters want to use, and they define it in any fashion they choose. It reminds me of Serbia claiming we used “radiological weapons” in the form of depleted uranium penetrators and projectiles.

I’ve made my opinion clear that I think waterboarding is unlawful. I’m not going to dignify the cause of our enemies by saying we torture people. The broken bones, burns, ripped flesh, diseases, and crippling disabilities of our POWs are far worse than any waterboarding. On a scale from paper cuts to being burned alive, waterboarding is closer to the paper cut. The fear is what makes it unlawful, not the pain.

26 affenkopf January 21, 2013 at 6:23 am

You know that the claim that US tortures is not just based on waterboarding but also on rapes, beatings or mock executions? Nothing of these qualifie as torture?

27 J1 January 21, 2013 at 3:30 pm

Does torturing irregular combatants violate any international treaty? I don’t mean that rhetorically; I’m curious about your position on the subject.

28 maguro January 20, 2013 at 10:54 am

The movie failed to reassure the hipsters that their sqeamishness and ambilvalence are the only proper response to the war on terror.

29 dead serious January 20, 2013 at 2:02 pm

Dumb hipsters. Everyone knows the proper response is to run up a large deficit with tens, or, optimally hundred of billions of dollars in military and “contractor” spending and to make people take off their shoes at the airport.

30 So Much for Subtlety January 20, 2013 at 6:34 pm

There is some truth to that. But I think the bigger picture remains – Hollywood has a hipster ethos. It is not that they are hipsters, but that people who take Hollywood seriously become hipsters in my opinion. Part of that means a general dislike of America. They do not want America to win. At least not the America they have, the America of George W. Bush. They may be a lot more comfortable about Obama winning, but not even then.

So the war on terror is interesting because Hollywood had found itself utterly unable to make anything remotely patriotic about the war. American soldiers are all red necked buffoons who deserve to die. When they are not part of plots to steal organs or something. Which means that Hollywood is not connecting with the public. So they are not watching Hollywood’s films. It is interesting to compare this with WW2 where no hipster-style irony was allowed. Or even Vietnam where Hollywood was generally on board for a while.

So Bigelow gets close to making a film ordinary Americans might like. They punish her for it.

31 Willitts January 20, 2013 at 7:52 pm

Avatar: the most anti-human, anti-military, anti-capitalism, anti-American movie ever made. Loved by liberals even more than V for Vendetta.

32 Geoff Olynyk January 21, 2013 at 11:04 am

Poe’s Law here

33 Shane January 20, 2013 at 10:59 am

TV so wildly terrible? Speaking generally of the last decade, in my opinion TV is vastly superior to movies, certainly the ones you’d see in a mainstream theatre. There’s more good TV to watch than time to watch it.

34 Andrew' January 20, 2013 at 11:52 am

“There’s more good TV to watch than time to watch it.”

Is part of the problem. Some day I’ll buy the complete series of “The Wire” because I suspect that is the only way it is watchable.

35 Rahul January 20, 2013 at 11:59 am

Examples of good TV? Making sure I am not missing out.

36 Orange14 January 20, 2013 at 12:16 pm

‘Examples of good TV? Making sure I am not missing out.’

Suits on USA; Shameless and Homeland on Showtime; all reruns of Law & Order: Criminal Intent

37 TMC January 20, 2013 at 1:49 pm

Person of Interest, Big Bang Theory

38 affenkopf January 20, 2013 at 2:27 pm

Ok now for a serious answer: Breaking Bad, Veep, Game of Thrones

39 affenkopf January 20, 2013 at 2:27 pm

I should have probably mentioned Breaking Bad more than once, it really is heads above anything else on TV.

40 Rahul January 20, 2013 at 2:49 pm

I only follow 3 on that list. Obviously, lot of catching up to do. Thanks.

41 Turkey Vulture January 20, 2013 at 4:39 pm

I watch Breaking Bad and Archer.

42 cthulhu January 21, 2013 at 12:29 am

Just from one channel (FX) over the last decade: “The Shield”, “Rescue Me”, “Sons of Anarchy”, “Justified” (the latter is IMHO the best show on television the last three years; the fourth season just started).

AMC: “Breaking Bad”, “Rubicon” (shamefully cancelled after only one season though).

HBO: “True Blood”, “Boardwalk Empire”, “Game of Thrones”, “Luck” (also shamefully cancelled after one season – yes, cancelled; my strong suspicion is that HBO was looking for an excuse to get PETA and its ilk to STFU, and seized on the not-unusual death of a few horses to pull the plug), “The Wire”

Showtime: “Homeland”, “Weeds”, “Dexter”, “Penn & Teller – Bullshit!”

I could go on…agree with the comment about not enough time to watch all the good TV. It’s raining soup – turn on your TV and/or fire up your DVR to catch it.

43 Andrew' January 21, 2013 at 4:59 am

Other usual suspects are Deadwood, Battlestar Galactica, Monk, Lost. Opinions being what they are, most of those shows seem ridiculous and/or overwrought to me. Everything has to be dark and gritty but mostly they are nothing else. The comedies are a disaster. And for just under a C note for basic cable I get essentially zero of those. Aside from Monk, nothing comes near Magnum PI or Cheers for accessibility and universal appeal. For $1 I can go to the red box and get any of 100 movies.

44 Alexei Sadeski January 20, 2013 at 11:02 am

It’s remarkable that ten years of war condensed into three hours of film can be so boring.

45 Alex January 20, 2013 at 11:05 am

This review is not negative enough. It tried to be a docudrama at points and it made the movie boring. How many lame dialogie meeting scenes did therehae to be? The final “action” sequence was the most boring and confusing action I’ve seen in years. Jessica Chastain is the most overrated actress today, no emotion, development, or depth to her boring bureaucrat character.

46 Neal January 20, 2013 at 11:07 am

“I don’t regret having seen it, but I would regret it even less had they not made it in the first place.”
This is a very good put-down.

47 Edward Burke January 20, 2013 at 11:08 am

Observe our continued knack for mythologization alive and well in 2013. We don’t want bare facts: we want rendered facts, mediated facts, dramatized facts, mythologized facts: we want and prefer myth, not history. (Look at the three of them right now: Spielberg’s “Lincoln”, Tarentino’s “Django”, Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty”: compact mythologies every one.) As in “news”, so in entertainment. (One cure for contemporary Hollywood fare: a diet of [older] foreign films + silent films.)

48 Tununak January 20, 2013 at 11:30 am

Yes. Three words: Turner Classic Movies.

49 wiki January 20, 2013 at 11:53 am

@Burke. Yes, because older Hollywood myths were better and truer.

50 Edward Burke January 20, 2013 at 12:18 pm

@ wiki: no, not because older Hollywood productions were or are better or more true–their mythmaking and the myths they encode are more recognizable, less opaque, more transparent decades later once we more clearly observe their historical circumstances. An intrinsic feature of any durable myth is its ability to continually unpack itself: myths are time-released nutritional supplements, not the readily digestible doses of daily fact so apt to yield vomiting or incontinence. Myths go down so palatably, their wonders to perform. (Not for nothing has C. Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Storytellers and Screenwriters been a prominent title in the screenwriting community over the past two decades.)

51 Thor January 20, 2013 at 2:38 pm

Good answer. I believe you are right. And let’s not even touch on the lowest form of myth-making: parables. But enough about Avatar.

52 Yog Sothoth January 20, 2013 at 11:50 am


and +1 to Tyler. Way to take this movie down a notch.

53 mavery January 20, 2013 at 12:38 pm

Wait, you’re arguing that… what exactly? Popular entertainment is about entertaining people rather than getting facts straight? And you point to purported news channels as evidence of this?

I’m really baffled. You appear to be suggesting that at this point, our movies are just as bad as our news when it comes to, I dunno, facts?

In your mind is this not new? What do you think Richard III was about?

54 Edward Burke January 20, 2013 at 12:51 pm

Perhaps possibly maybe: on one hand I merely remark that Shakespeare did not have four or five centuries of modernity at his immediate back when he took to propagandizing on behalf of the court of Elizabeth I. Modernity has not changed one blessed or one damned thing after four or five centuries, by this measure. On another hand our purveyors of “news” seem to have become so enamored of the successes of Hollywood mythmakers that they now routinely employ narrative strategies that give “facts” at least as much mythic purport as they are permitted to supply reliable forensic testimony. David Maraniss related blandly and matter-of-factly over NPR airwaves just today how Obama’s autobiographical fable was received as reliable history by the unwitting or credulous American public, so we see further evidence of myth displacing what we used to be willing to call “history” and this time yet again in our very political discourse. (Don’t start me on JFK’s Camelot, please, I’m not Arthurian scholar enough.)

55 Bill January 20, 2013 at 2:07 pm

+1 Don’t assume intelligence agencies and the defense agencies don’t have or hire public relations specialists to get their message across, and that social media and fictionalized movie accounts aren’t one vehicle. We have some laws regarding this (ie, false propaganda to the American public) , but what you release, how you release and to whom you release, and how completely you release information probably does not fall within what is prohibited. Nor are you obligated to prevent someone’s wrong inference. So, it is probably good that the Intelligence Committees are pursuing sources and communications behind the film to see if any lines were crossed. But, of course, everyone believes it is fiction. Or not.

56 Willitts January 20, 2013 at 11:56 am

And what did we learn from all this:
– torture works, but it is still bad.
– Bush had people search for bin Laden, but bin Laden really didn’t matter.
– Obama had people search for bin Laden, and then ordered him to be murdered,and that doesn’t matter.
– bin Laden is dead, but the war continues.
– analyzing intelligence, discussing it in meetings, and organizing hit squads is actually rather boring.
– All the political raised voices against Bush and for Obama was hullabaloo.
– in the end, we either don’t care or if we do care all we can do is complain about it on a blog.

Nothing to see here.

57 Andrew' January 20, 2013 at 12:01 pm

I actually am not sure we learned that torture works just because a movie says so.

58 maguro January 20, 2013 at 12:07 pm

The whole torture argument seems rather pointless since O has already “solved” the problem by assassinating terrorists with missiles fired from UAVs rather than capturing and interrogating them.

59 Andrew' January 21, 2013 at 6:22 am

Yeah, and that we didn’t even entertain the thought of capturing and question OBL is telling.

60 Andrew' January 21, 2013 at 6:23 am

I watched Zero Dark Thirty this weekend, it was called Dredd.

61 Hazel Meade January 22, 2013 at 2:44 pm

Maybe we did.
have you seen the body?


62 prior_approval January 20, 2013 at 1:11 pm

Well, how about a TV series then?

‘The Globe and Mail reported that Scalia came to the defense of Jack Bauer and his torture tactics during an Ottawa conference of international jurists and national security officials last week. During a panel discussion about terrorism, torture and the law, a Canadian judge remarked, “Thankfully, security agencies in all our countries do not subscribe to the mantra ‘What would Jack Bauer do?’ ”

Justice Scalia responded with a defense of Agent Bauer, arguing that law enforcement officials deserve latitude in times of great crisis. “Jack Bauer saved Los Angeles . . . . He saved hundreds of thousands of lives,” Judge Scalia reportedly said. “Are you going to convict Jack Bauer?” He then posed a series of questions to his fellow judges: “Say that criminal law is against him? ‘You have the right to a jury trial?’ Is any jury going to convict Jack Bauer?”

“I don’t think so,” Scalia reportedly answered himself. “So the question is really whether we believe in these absolutes. And ought we believe in these absolutes.” ‘


What I find most amusing is the idea that a fictional character won’t be convicted – being fictional, it isn’t as if anyone saved anything in the scenario Scalia recounted. What I find most disturbing is a man sworn to uphold the Constitution, including its most direct forbidding of cruel and unusual punishment, defends torture in a forum where another judge was talking about how civilized countries would never use torture as an instrument.

63 dearieme January 20, 2013 at 1:46 pm

“most direct forbidding of cruel and unusual punishment”: but torture isn’t meeted out as punishment, is it? Not if its purpose is to gain info.

64 So Much for Subtlety January 20, 2013 at 4:55 pm

So he is to be condemned for being honest? The West has fought a lot of counter-insurgency campaigns since records began. It would take me a while to think of a single one where the West did not torture. Every single Western country. The US tortured in the Philippines, all over Latin America and in Vietnam. France not only did so in Algeria, they sent officers to teach Latin American soldiers how to do it. Britain did in Kenya and Cyprus. It may not have in Malaya but I expect it did.

Sure, the West lost most of those wars, but the people who did win tortured even more. I bet more ANC members were tortured by the ANC than by the Apartheid regime.

Now how many people were convicted of any of this? Even at My Lai no one got real jail time.

So he is right. In times of crisis no one is going to bother with convictions.

65 Willitts January 20, 2013 at 5:01 pm

Torture works almost every time. The oft repeated statement that torture has never been a reliable means of extracting information is conclusory and baseless.

The US military Code of Conduct was developed and revised based on the experiences of POWs. The fact is that all of them broke under torture – all of them. SERE training teaches you to break when you can’t resist any more and to give out information when you reasonably believe it is too late to do any good. This meets with limited success. POWs are seldom prosecuted or even criticized for breaking. They are prosecuted when they provide aid or information when they were not under substantial duress.

As for murder, there is no available evidence that bin Laden was murdered. A combatant is considered to be a lawful target until they are hors de combat.

As for civilian casualties, there is absolutely nothing in the Law of War that prevents firing on combatants when there are noncombatants in the area. The law only requires proportionality and the prevention of unnecessary suffering. It also acknowledges military necessity. It is not a violation of the Law of War to bomb a building that you reasonably believe contains combatants.

66 cthulhu January 21, 2013 at 12:37 am

I will agree with you that essentially everybody will break under torture. However, you seem not to realize that is in and of itself the problem from an information perspective (I’m deliberately not addressing the moral problem with torture here): people break under torture regardless of whether they have valuable information to give up or not. Indiscriminate torture pollutes the information corpus with the ravings of people who don’t know anything valuable who just want the unendurable pain to stop. How do you sift the kernel of truth out of the morass of torture-induced chaff?

67 So Much For Subtlety January 21, 2013 at 1:55 am

How do you ever tell the truth about anything? The problem doesn’t go away because you don’t torture.

Traditionally when torture was routine in Court proceedings, the interrogator was supposed to make the suspect divulge information that only the guilty party would know- where the body was buried and so on. Nothing much has changed. Every interrogator has to do the same.

68 Willitts January 21, 2013 at 2:56 am

So much for subtlety is exactly right. Any piece of information, true or untrue, must be corroborated with other information. Interrogators can often tell when someone is lying just as polygraphers can tell; the machine is a tool, the polygrapher is the lie detector.

Intelligence is information plus analysis. For a good example in film, watch Unforgiven and how the sheriff discovers the lies through torture. The story changes. Also, he threatens to torture more if the information isn’t corroborated by another source: “When your lies don’t match her lies….well, I’m not going to take it out on a woman.”

Judges make credibility determinations all the time. They use undisputed facts, motives to lie, capacity, corroboration, internal and external consistency, and demeanor.

We have training schools for interrogators. They’ve learned a few things since the Inquisition.

69 Andrew' January 21, 2013 at 6:25 am

Evidence that they have prevented anything:

70 Andrew' January 21, 2013 at 8:48 am

“He was held at a CIA black site for two years, before being turned over to a Pakistani prison system.[7] It was during this time of detainment by the CIA that Ghul surrendered the nickname al-Kuwaiti as a key piece of intelligence. The name al-Kuwaiti was questionable but the information supplied by Ghul gave intelligence operatives some interesting insight and raised speculation as to why no captured enemy combatant ever revealed the real name of Osama bin Laden’s courier. The questions surrounding al-Kuwaiti are still unanswered, however, intelligence agents intercepted a satellite phone call [8] made by Osama bin Laden’s bodyguard in 2010 which led to the surveillance of a courier that in turn led intelligence operatives to Osama bin Laden’s compound.[9]”

It is not clear from this explanation that (1) the info came directly from torture or that (2) that intel was actually what DIRECTLY AND SOLELY led to the courier.

So, to simplify, supposedly ‘torture’ (if it was in fact the torture) that did the trick (I’d like to ‘interrogate’ the CIA to find out the truth of that- maybe they just like torture), produced a nickname. Everything else was not torture. And after 5-8 years(captured in 2004-) this thing certainly was the time-critical narrative that is used to justify torture over things like not-torture stuff (e.g. “hey, if this info turns out to be good info we’ll let you go, reduce your sentence, etc.”)

71 maguro January 20, 2013 at 12:33 pm

By the way. When I was in military, everyone said “Oh Dark Thirty”, not “Zero Dark Thirty”. Has this changed recently? Admittedly I was not a Navy SEAL.

72 Willitts January 20, 2013 at 7:44 pm

You are correct, and I don’t know why I didn’t notice it before. Even when saying O we meant zero. This is anomalous since a soldier who has been taught proper radio procedures would never say O in the phonetic language when he meant Zee-Ro.

O would be pronounced Oscar. 🙂

If you were to name the film 0 Dark 30, it might be rather confusing to the nonmilitary person searching for it.

73 Kevin January 20, 2013 at 12:39 pm

Is it just me, or has there been an increase in the number of “critically-acclaimed” films with no “wow factor” during the past 10-15 years? I haven’t seen ZDT yet — I’m outside of the US — but I might miss it entirely because so many people have found it underwhelming. Of the past ten pics which won the Oscar for best picture, I found three unwatchable (“The Artist”, “Hurt Locker”, “Crash”). For the previous decade I’d say the same for one (“English Patient”). And for the decade before that, zero. I’m more than open to the obvious possibility that I’m turning into an old fart — that’s the most obvious explanation — but I’ve always had the an ability to appreciate the redeeming aspects of polarizing films (eg. “King’s Speech”, “Titanic”, “Braveheart”). What the hell happened?

74 Ed January 20, 2013 at 1:42 pm

I agree that the Great Stagnation is evident in movies too.

I’ve also considered whether this just means I’m an old fart, but when I see older movies (pre 2000) I’m usually impressed with how watchable they are compared to current movies. Of course part of this is selection bias, if someone is showing a watching a 12 year old plus movie there is probably something worthwhile about it. Also clumps of good movies continue to be released now, its just more of a matter of less chaff and more wheat than in the past.

There are only so many stories film-makers can tell, in so many different ways, so we would expect to see diminishing returns here as in other areas.

75 Rahul January 20, 2013 at 2:53 pm

Is this because the low hanging fruit of plots has been plucked? Are there a low, finite number of movie-suitable plots?

76 Willitts January 20, 2013 at 7:26 pm

With all the remakes, sequels, and book adaptations? Yes.

That said, the movies that have made the biggest impression on people deviated from those molds.

There are original ideas in Hollywood – just not many of them. Perhaps we have even grown tires of variations on old themes. HBO and Showtime are producing top quality productions in a small(er) screen format.

How many times can we expect to see Peter Parker bitten by a spider?

77 Alexei Sadeski January 20, 2013 at 2:18 pm

I think this has more to do with the critics than the films.

2011 was mediocre, but 2012 has Django and Life of Pi, both excellent.

Over other years: Black Swan, Inglorious Basterds, Up, Benjamin Button, There Will Be Blood, Letters From Iwo Jima, Little Miss Sunshine, Babel, Capote, Aviator, Sideways, Mystic River,The Pianist… These were all excellent movies which didn’t win.

I rather liked Hurt Locker, but agree on The Artist and Crash.

78 Willitts January 20, 2013 at 7:29 pm

I agree on all counts with your list of remarkable films. The problem is all of the recent films that didn’t deserve to be on your list.

79 cthulhu January 21, 2013 at 12:40 am

See previous thread about the current New Golden Age of dramatic television. Gotta go now – I’ve been waiting all week to watch the new episode of “Justified”…

80 bob January 20, 2013 at 1:07 pm

The fact that this pro-torture propaganda movie exists is the most interesting thing to me.

81 So Much for Subtlety January 20, 2013 at 4:57 pm

All police movies are pro-torture propaganda. I am not sure how far back you would have to go to find a film that did not show torture in either positive or neutral terms, but it would be some way. The West is fine with torture on the Big Screen. Since Dirty Harry at least.

Seriously – when was the last time you saw a police drama flick that did not include torture? The latest Mission Impossible certainly saw the need for it.

82 Willitts January 20, 2013 at 7:36 pm

Saw, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Braveheart, Payback, Reservoir Dogs, Django, Casino Royale, Inception, Star Wars… I’m having a hard time finding films that didn’t have torture in them.

83 gregorylent January 20, 2013 at 1:15 pm

the dvd is available in shanghai for about $1.50 (it’s a perfect copy of a “for your consideration” academy dvd, by the way (piracy is an inside job)) but i didn’t buy it and won’t watch it .. tried “hurt locker”, lasted 8 minutes … all i need to know about the director was right there.

84 affenkopf January 20, 2013 at 2:33 pm

It’s available everywhere in the world by torrent.

85 Kent Anderson January 20, 2013 at 1:43 pm

Everyone’s taste is different, but I found “Zero Dark Thirty” to be a riveting, well-executed, and impressive movie. The torture aspect was correctly ambiguous, and should be discussed for the nuances it portrayed and not in the cartoonish way some critics have deliberately misinterpreted the movie or, worse, what people who haven’t seen the movie have to say — in “Zero Dark Thirty,” torture yielded unreliable information, and conversation and personal bonds yielded a thread that a tenacious (and real) CIA agent followed to Bin Laden. That’s exactly what intelligence professionals know to be true — torture will get you garbage, long-term personal interactions will get you nuggets. The tone of the movie was about intelligence professionals doing their jobs, which wasn’t glamorous, but the dangers were real — bombings, ambushes coming any time. The movie captured the tensions between hope, daily life, and looming danger quite well. The characters were mixed bags — obsessives, careerists, etc. And the final 30 minutes were amazing to me. At the end, the final question was exactly the question we all face now, and it’s loaded with political, social, and personal ambiguity. Sorry you didn’t like it.

86 Willitts January 20, 2013 at 5:09 pm

The movie’s message about torture is ill informed no matter what position the film maker intended or what viewers perceived.

Torture has always been effective, and all chatter to the contrary is wishful thinking or propaganda itself. You are believing too much Hollywood BS.

87 Andrew' January 21, 2013 at 6:31 am


In this case the torture produced a nickname for a possible courier. I suspect that the other 99.9% of the end result was from non-torture.

88 Andrew' January 21, 2013 at 6:34 am

To expound, torture may ‘work’ but this appears to be the worst example one could come up with to show that. Even the information, the nickname of the courier, was completely sketchy. And the real question is whether or not the torture information even mattered, how much torture was required to obtain it (the capture of Bin Laden being the only useful event to come out of The War on Terror) and whether other cheaper methods could have obtained the same information or the same result from different information. And yet, it still took 8 years from the obtention of the courier nickname to capture.

89 David Silver January 20, 2013 at 6:00 pm


90 Thomas January 20, 2013 at 7:47 pm

In ZDT, torture is what provides the context for the conversation/personal bonds. The prisoner believes he’s already provided the crucial information.

91 Colin January 20, 2013 at 1:48 pm

I realize that contrarianism is fashionable, but I really liked the movie. I thought the recreation of the compound raid was great — the way they recreated the compound and even the helicopters was amazing. As for the torture scenes, I found them pretty disturbing and my wife teared up during them she found them so upsetting. Anyway, great movie, which I enjoyed more than Lincoln and The Impossible.

92 Greg January 20, 2013 at 2:19 pm

I can’t disagree more. Just on a procedural level, the movie is pretty awesome — taking away all the big issues. Reminded me of Zodiac, another great procedural film. I rather enjoyed the spareness of character, seemed like a stylistic choice in the tradition of the Western (Shane, Randolph Scott movies, Sam Fuller).

93 Claudia January 20, 2013 at 2:58 pm

In this recent war genre, I got the most out of watching *Restrepo.* I get the impression that the critique here has little to do with the film.

94 mm January 20, 2013 at 3:29 pm

Two thoughts:
1)enrique- read something about just war doctrine, since you seem to try to invoke it without a clue as to what it is. DELIBERATE targeting of civilians is in no way comparable to “collateral damage”- therefore one can not claim the war is illegal/unethical if the 9/11 deaths are exceeded by accidental civilian deaths from American action.
2) tortue did lead to critical information despite what many are claiming- that does not make it right or wrong- but the fact is it did yield important information. The constant refusal to accept this makes the arguments of many civil libertarians seem phony- you can still argue against torture while conceding it yielded critical information in the hunt for OBL.

95 Therapsid January 20, 2013 at 4:48 pm

Not everyone buys into just war doctrine. From the standpoint of utility, if you’re causing predictably higher levels of civilian casualties than your adversary is by a very large margin then it isn’t a just course of action. You can’t bomb Gaza or South Lebanon and predictably cause hundreds of civilian deaths, far more than your opponents, and then call yourself just – except in the medieval doctrine you promote.

96 So Much for Subtlety January 20, 2013 at 5:49 pm

Who doesn’t buy into Just War theory and why should we give a damn if they don’t? Suppose Hitler said, as he more or less did actually, that if the West intervened, he would gas all the Jews. He did kill more people in camps than the Western powers put together did. Are you saying that it would not be just to have invaded Normandy? Or put it on a smaller scale, suppose Saddam had said that he would murder ten civilians for every bomb dropped on Iraq. Is it no longer just to liberate Kuwait?

Predictably is an interesting word. Sanctions kill people. Sanctions on South Africa killed people by making South Africa poorer. Entirely predictable. The ANC, as a vehicle for the South African Communist Party, did not care and their argument won the day. But you’re saying this was immoral, right?

So suppose that Israel attacks Gaza and it does everything to minimize civilian deaths. You’re saying that you can actually balance the unintended deaths Israel is trying to avoid with the intended deaths that Hamas is trying to inflict? Why do you think that?

97 Gerard January 20, 2013 at 3:46 pm

I guess there were too many attractive women at your particular screening?

98 Glenn Mercer January 20, 2013 at 6:43 pm

Okay, question time. If you didn’t regret having seen it, how could you regret it LESS if they hadn’t made it? Doesn’t “did not regret” mean “had zero regret?” Can you have less than zero regret? (I may have to investigate the concept of “negative regret”….)

Sorry, I have too much free time on my hands!

99 GiT January 21, 2013 at 3:05 pm

Compare, “Your wife is cheating on you.” “Well, I wish she hadn’t done that, but since she has I’m glad I know.” “I’d rather not little Bobby play tackle football, but since he’s doing it I’d rather watch him than not.”

In general, the formula goes something like this

Inexistence > Existence
Existence + Knowledge/Participation > Existence + Ignorance/Avoidance

There are lots of different reasons that could hold those relationships together though. Not sure exactly what TC’s is.

100 Hazel Meade January 22, 2013 at 2:48 pm

Translation: My regret would have been negative. I.e. I would have positively preferred it if it hadn’t been made.

101 Chip January 20, 2013 at 6:49 pm

Someone touched on this already but it’s key to the fatuous debate over torture. When three al Qaeda leaders were water boarded and others sent to Guantanamo, it was proof the US was descending into fascism. The media were ablaze with moral outrage.

When the government shifted its policy to merely assassinate suspected terrorists with drones, including a US citizen and many low level Taliban fighters, everyone went back to watching American Idol.

How many kids killed by drone attacks in Pakistan?

One hundred and seventy six.

Look, it’s Nicki Minaj!

102 Thomas January 20, 2013 at 7:48 pm

If you are to see just one film about state-sanctioned extra-judicial killings this year, see Zero Dark Thirty.

103 Mark V Anderson January 20, 2013 at 7:48 pm

+1. These drone killings are far more immoral, and even worse, counter-productive to ending terrorism than any torture condoned by GW.

104 Major January 20, 2013 at 9:31 pm

How many kids killed by drone attacks in Pakistan? One hundred and seventy six.

There doesn’t seem to be any reliable information on the number of civilians killed in drone strikes.

105 Andrew' January 21, 2013 at 6:29 am

Why do you guys think these are different things? It’s the only way that the left is right when they claim Obama is just a moderate Republican.

106 Thomas January 20, 2013 at 6:50 pm

I think Tyler under-estimates Bigelow’s accomplishment. It’s a story of tedious devotion to a bureaucratic search process building to an end that is familiar to all of us. And despite that, it’s an interesting and, at time, riveting movie. I was surprised at her ability to pull that off, given the weakness of the story.

107 Willitts January 20, 2013 at 8:16 pm

I think you make an excellent point here. The intelligence work to find evidence of bin Laden’s whereabouts was no less bureaucratic and mind-numbingly boring than efforts to crack the Japanese naval code in WWII. It’s rather hard to show ten years of analysts sitting behind desks culminating in a nighttime raid.

Most crime TV shows have to contrive a plot line to make it interesting. Bigelow had to deal with facts, or a reasonable facsimile thereof. Cops spend most of their days sitting in cars. Soldiers spend most of their time droning through mindless tedium punctuated by relatively few moments of sheer terror.

She is a good director and producer. While I like her films, perhaps she chooses too narrow a scope.

108 Jacob AG January 20, 2013 at 8:43 pm

Until I read this, I thought I was the only one. Thank goodness, I am apparently not an idiot. Here is my (similar but longer) review: http://jacobageller.com/2013/01/am-i-the-only-guy-who-thought-zero-dark-thirty-was-a-mediocre-movie/

109 Andrew' January 21, 2013 at 6:40 am

Torture is the easy button.

110 Andrew' January 21, 2013 at 11:35 am


As for the torture controversy, I don’t feel like wading into it except to say that part of the reason everybody’s panties are in a bunch is that the movie was actually very unclear about whether “enhanced interrogation” constituted “torture,” and also about whether it did the hunt any good.

The whole narrative on this issue was just… muddled. They showed you a couple torture-ish scenes, the CIA gets some intelligence during these scenes but it isn’t clear whether that was necessary, then they get some more intelligence by more conventional means, and then they move on. There is no grandstanding in any particular direction — it’s just a raw, uncut, if not exactly the most complete picture of the role of torture in the hunt for bin Laden (that is an understatement).

“Referencing Jane Mayer’s reporting that it was ground-level CIA officers who were the first to object to these torture techniques as both immoral and counter-productive,…”

As Mayer put it, “You would think that if the CIA’s interrogation of high-value detainees was all it took, the U.S. government would have succeeded in locating bin Laden before 2006.”[70]

111 Andrew' January 21, 2013 at 11:42 am

“According to several official sources, including Dianne Feinstein, the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the identity of bin Laden’s courier, whose trail led the CIA to the hideout in Pakistan, was not discovered through waterboarding.”

“The claim that waterboarding and other torture techniques were necessary in finding bin Laden was first made earlier this year by Jose Rodriguez, the CIA agent who illegally destroyed the agency’s torture tapes, got protected from prosecution by the DOJ, and then profited off this behavior by writing a book. He made the same claim as “Zero Dark Thirty” regarding the role played by torture in finding bin Laden. ”

My personal opinion is that this CIA guy is a shyster, but I repeat myself. When he said whatever implausible thing he said on 60 Minutes about why he destroyed the tapes you seriously believed anything else you heard him say? The CIA wants the same thing researchers touting embryonic stem cells wanted – carte blanche. We don’t have to hate them, just don’t trust them.

112 Mr. Econotarian January 21, 2013 at 2:21 pm

Does ZDT mention Pakistan doctor, Shakil Afridi, who was hired by the CIA to run a sham vaccination program in Abbottabad aimed at finding Bin Laden family through DNA matches?

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