‘Zero Dark Thirty’ and the torture controversy

At sister Variety blog Wilshire & Washington, Ted Johnson writes about the simmering controversy surrounding “Zero Dark Thirty.” An excerpt:

Sony, Bigelow and Boal certainly could have not have been under any
illusions that their movie, which is racking up many of the early Oscar
season awards and critics’ 2012 picks, would sail through without any
tinge of controversy. They are tackling events that have only recently
unfolded, that journalists are still uncovering and that are too close
to the past to benefit from the perspective of historians.

The question is whether the argument that the movie somehow elevates
torture as useful — something that Bigelow and Boal deny, as they say
they are conveying what happened, not judgments of what happened —
will create the type of controversy that will hurt its awards season
chances. Given the movie’s subject matter, it’s a trivial point, for
sure, but the kudos punditry is also part of Hollywood culture this time
of year. It’s also a reality of the Oscar campaign: Other movies based
on real-life events, like “A Beautiful Mind” and “The Hurricane,” have
had to weather an onslaught of doubt, sometimes triggered by the
competition. That’s why we’re likely to hear in the coming weeks a lot
of pushback against the idea that the movie glorifies torture (the movie
also features footage of President Obama ordering an end to it).
Ultimately, the movie will speak for itself, and even before its release
it already has a substantial list of plaudits. But so does “Lincoln.”

My takeaway from the movie was that it seemed to show the torturous
methods for exactly what they were, without taking a decisive stand for or
against them. In fact, one of the things that impressed me about “Zero”
was how apolitical it was.

At a minimum, there’s no minimizing in the film how cruel torture is.

In an Oscar race as close as this one looks to be, it won’t take much to tip the scales. If there’s an Oscar voter who fears what it might mean for the org’s legacy to endorse “Zero,” then it’s easy enough to find an alternative this winter to vote for. However, I’m not convinced that many people who see “Zero” will find it endorses torture the way its political critics — including those who have voiced opinions without having seen it yet — say it does.

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