Film Reviews

ZERO DARK THIRTY

By • Jan 12th, 2013 •

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There has been considerable advanced publicity regarding ZERO DARK THIRTY, mostly wrong. It is true that Bigelow did get access to key people in preparation for the film. However, in my opinion all the noise about revelation of classified information is simply specious. Running counter to most film critics, I thought the film was middle of the road for action and the assault was poorly shot. Much of the time during the raid sequence all that is seen is a dark screen with a few flashing lights and nothing that even remotely reveals tactics, techniques, or procedures or TTP as they are known in the military. As a former Green Beret, I believe the special operations forces (SOF) who conducted the raid were vastly underplayed. The movie certainly did not suggest the extensive planning and rehearsal that went into the operation. In the film it seemed more like,” OK you have nothing to do tonight so we’re going to get UBL.” They then jump on the helicopters and fly off into Pakistan. In fact, television versions have portrayed the action in manners that will be more understandable to the audience – accuracy aside.

ZERO DARK THIRTY claims to be an accurate representation of the events that eventually led to bin Laden’s death. Reality is far different. While most movies require a main character, Bigelow makes Maya, a CIA analyst, into some superhero, and would have us believe that she did everything but shoot UBL on her own. She appears to be the lone voice having to fight her superiors to get them interested in finding UBL. Nothing is further from the truth. There were a lot of coordinated intelligence sources contributing to the end product, human intelligence (HUMINT), including enhanced interrogation, signals intelligence (SIGINT – meaning intercepts), and sometimes aggressive technical operations all play into the operation. Many people worked diligently for over a decade to bring the operation to fruition. The film does not mention that the CIA had the house under observation from a short distance away for several months.

All that said, the film may produce strategic damage to U.S. special operations forces and the Intelligence Community. There are extensive graphic scenes of torture under the guise of authorized “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Obviously Bigelow took some of her cues from Abu Ghraib and has vigorously defended the film’s depiction of torture as accurate and “part of the story.” Real interrogators have already weighed in on the depiction and indicate it is both distorted and ineffective. Unfortunately, the public will not see it that way and overseas audiences likely will believe they are normal American practices. In fact, based on the distorted depiction in the movie, there are again calls for another round of investigation into the techniques employed. A more detailed discussion of those practices can be found in Jose Rodriguez commentary in the 6 January 2013 Washington Post.

The film is far too long and would have benefitted from stringent editing. The bottom line is Bigelow produced a fictionalized version of events that will be taken as real by many viewers. While security concerns were overblown there is nothing to fear in that domain. However the IC/SOF/American image will be damaged.

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