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Propaganda War

Wednesday 16 January 2013, 10:46

Mark Kermode Mark Kermode

Zero Dark Thirty - the new film about the hunt for Osama Bin Laden is attracting a lot of controversy -  but could this actually be less about politics and more to do with awards?

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    Comment number 11.

    This is a typically lame argument from Kermode. There has been much written about this ghastly film as a CIA propaganda piece, none of which has anything to do with the Oscars. The fact that the studio decided to release Zero Dark 30 at this time of year is the reason for the 'coincidence'.

    There is no neutral position on torture. Like the Holocaust, its very existence requires one to take a stand. Bigelow obscures the truth about torture in ZD30 which reveals far more about the involvement of the CIA and the US military in the production of the movie than it does about the last decade of American Foreign Policy.

    Documentary-style, shaky-cam visuals are used by Bigelow to give the impression of 'realism'. This is a film that was touted in the press as 'journalism-as-film': hence the exploitation of 9/11. However, much like the morally bankrupt and vastly overrated 'Hurt Locker', ZD30 lacks political, social and cultural complexity. We are given no insight into the worldview of CIA torture victims; brown-skinned people are not given permission to speak.

    Not only is ZD30 a work of political deception, it is also artistically worthless. At its core, Bigelow's film is simply a gung-ho revenge fantasy, not unlike Tarantino'S awful Django Unchained. The moral values on screen are black and white: Bigelow is unable to grasp moral complexity. The characterizations of the 'heroes' lack depth: they are limp and unsympathetic.

    Something also needs to be said about the dire state of professional film criticism. There have been few critics willing to take a principled stand against the unconscionable politics in ZD30. In most reviews we get the usual privileging of form over content; aesthetic sensibility is favoured over strong political and social convictions.

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    Comment number 12.

    People don't seriously believe the CIA denial that torture was used, or that they wouldn't have been included in the film which collaborated so closely with those involved if it wasn't true. Of course they authorities can't officially admit that they committed war crimes, but that fact they didn't ask for the torture scenes to be removed is a tacit admission which allows them still to claim that it is just artistic licence. That the Americans have used torture against terror suspects isn't really in doubt,so it is ridiculous that the torture wouldn't have been used to try and find bin laden.

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    Comment number 13.

    I seem to remember that the one movie since, I guess, the Green Berets, to truly picture the US armed forces in a positive light, Act of Valour was ridiculed by the good doctor.

    I didn't think it was that bad. But then, I'm not a troskyist.

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    Comment number 14.

    First of all, I have not yet been able to see Zero Dark Thirty.

    However all I have read about this film and its production raises serious questions about modern cinema and also about modern war movies. Especially as we move into the perspective years of the first decade of the 'war on terror'. Similar to the slew of Vietnam movies in the 70's when the dust had settled there.

    Firstly, there seems to be a product placement issue here. This time it's not a well known cola or watch company that is required to assist in making the film, but the military. The Pentagon seem to have been closely linked to this film and for the filmmakers that's great (helicopters, Humvee's, military advisers etc...). However, what is the military's agenda here? Every army has had a message to get across since Alexander the Great.

    Secondly, what is the point of torture in a movie about Lord Voldemort's assassination. The true story is that torture had nothing to do with him being found. So why is it in the movie? Now maybe the doctor will tell us that it ratchets up the tension and is essential to whatever gripping story the filmmakers try to tell us.

    The cynic in me says that at the top of the military and political worlds on both sides of the Atlantic, there are still a lot of people who seek to justify in our collective minds what we once only associated with the baddies in Indiana Jones movies (I won't name them and fall into that award season trap!)

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Having seen the film I can say two things: 1) it clearly depicts torture as being ineffective at extracting useful information as a tortured detainee only babbles when he is finally broken and 2) a film about the War on Terror requires that torture be depicted because, unfortunately, that's part of the story. Bigelow herself has said in interviews that if she had left the tough bits out she would be slammed for glossing over those truths.

    The film is quite ambivalent in it's views and it reads more like reportage and less like sensationalism. The film is not "right wing crap" because it has too many rough moral edges and it does not lecture like "Acts of Valor," which clearly is propaganda.


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