With all the awards season momentum it's been gathering, "Zero Dark Thirty" seems poised to gather enough trophies to fill a compound in Abbottabad, but an even darker controversy is brewing which might leave the film dead in the water.
Entertainment Weekly has posted some quotes from the film's screenwriter Mark Boal and director Kathryn Bigelow defending torture scenes showing an al Qaeda detainee named Ammar (Reda Kateb) being given "the works" by CIA honchos played by Jason Clark and Jessica Chastain. That includes strippings, sleep deprivation, being put on a dog leash and waterboardings, but many critics insist that these techniques are NOT what led the CIA to Osama bin Laden, and in fact have proved to often be counterproductive.
"It's a movie, not a documentary," said Boal. "We're trying to make the point that waterboarding and other harsh tactics were part of the C.I.A. program."
"You try to be faithful to the research," added Bigelow. "There's no question it was difficult, but to deny it would have been to be inaccurate."
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CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen, whose books were used as key sources by the filmmakers, has posted a long essay in which he refutes the importance of waterboarding or torture in gathering key evidence leading to Osama bin Laden's courier known as the Kuwaiti.
"The hunt for bin Laden could not have been accomplished without every form of American intelligence-gathering," says Bergen. "'Zero Dark Thirty' tries to make that point clear with gripping scenes of CIA officers using direction-finding technology to zero in on the courier's cell phone in a crowded Pakistani city. But there is little doubt that the torture scenes in the movie will be the ones that linger with filmgoers."
Bergen stresses that the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee will vote this week on approving the release of a 6,000-page report about the secret CIA interrogation program, which is shown to such graphic detail in "Zero Dark Thirty" that Dick Cheney must have been howling with glee.
Wherever the truth lies, we know that the film itself is highly entertaining, so if you want to experience actual torture you'll have to settle for "The Hobbit" in 48-frames-per-second.