The new film “Zero Dark Thirty” shows U.S. interrogators using a variety of methods, from sleep deprivation to waterboarding, to get vital information out of terrorist detainees.
And it worked, according to the film, which illustrates the hunt for Osama bin Laden in methodical detail.
It’s a notion all but ignored by early reviews of the feature, directed by Oscar-winner Kathryn Bigelow (Big Hollywood will post its review when the studio’s embargo rules lift).
The film’s crew worked intensely with the Obama administration to glean as many details about the hunt as possible, a search which drew questions at to whether the team received classified information along the way.
So will the film impact the public’s perception of bin Laden’s death? After all, the media gave credit to President Barack Obama for capturing the terrorist leader even though Obama spoke out specifically against enhanced interrogation.
In theory, bin Laden would still be alive and plotting more attacks had Obama’s “no torture” policy been in place.
“Zero Dark Thirty” hits select theaters Dec. 19 but already finds itself in the thick of the Oscar conversation. The film picked up its third best picture award today courtesy of the Washington, D.C. Area Film Critics Association. Will the “waterboarding works” meme hurt its chance at the year’s biggest prize?
We’re already seeing push back on the waterboarding elements in the film. One war correspondent from the New York Times is kicking up a fuss about how the interrogations are depicted.
“Bigelow maintains that everything in the film is based on first-hand accounts, but the waterboarding scene, which is likely to stir up controversy, appears to have strayed from real life,” he writes. “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 C.I.A. to the hideout in Pakistan, was not discovered through waterboarding.”
Tell that to CIA head Leon Panetta who admitted enhanced interrogation tactics helped find bin Laden.
A film’s Oscar hopes stem from much more than mere artistic merit. Oscar marketing tactics play a part, so do sentimental favorites and cultural forces swirling around the time of the final vote. And don’t forget the impact of left-of-center politics. If the narrative surrounding “Zero Dark Thirty” turns from “Obama’s finest hour” to “waterboarding works,” the film’s Academy Award chances will surely take a hit.