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December 14, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

“It’s a movie, not a documentary,” screenwriter and former journalist Mark Boal continues to repeat in virtually ever interview he gives to promote Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, which opens next Wednesday. But clearly audiences who watch the movie will come away believing that most of what is depicted in the movie is fact, and so the controversy over many of the scenes continues to grow in advance of the film’s opening among those who have seen it (and among political junkies of all stripes who have not.) Most of the controversy is focused on scenes depicting torture by the CIA in their effort to obtain information about the hiding place of Osama bin Laden. Some liberals have contended that the film wrongly implies that what the CIA calls enhanced interrogation provided crucial information that eventually led to the al-Qaeda leader and that it therefore is a powerful advocate for such techniques. In an interview with today’s (Friday) Wall Street Journal, Boal replied to those critics. “It’s preposterous to say Zero Dark Thirty glorifies torture,” he said. “If people want to use the film to score political points, I suppose that’s inevitable, but I’d say that harsh interrogations were unfortunately just a part of what the CIA did. … I think the film shows that no single technique led to bin Laden. There was an accumulation of evidence, and pure analysis is the unifying thread of the story.” But in his personal blog, conservative film critic Kyle Smith of the New York Post writes that after viewing the movie a second time, he has concluded that “Propaganda-wise, this is a big win for the Bush way of looking at the war on terror. … It won’t do to look at this film through a liberal lens colored by the view that harsh interrogation is needless and useless. The case is clear that harsh interrogation produces results.” But Peter Maass, who has covered the conflicts in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan, has written in The Atlantic that the suggestion that torture effectively pried information out of al Qaeda suspects is “inaccurate.” However, the debate over that matter obscures a more significant one, he says. “Zero Dark Thirty represents a new genre of embedded filmmaking that is the problematic offspring of the worrisome endeavor known as embedded journalism.” He explains: “The fundamental problem is that our government has again gotten away with offering privileged access to carefully selected individuals and getting a flattering story in return.” Maass points out that the CIA has given Boal and Bigelow access to people and information that remains off-limits to nonfiction writers and documentarians. “But as it stands, we’re getting the myth of history before getting the actual history.”