Kathryn Bigelow’s hunt-for-bin Laden movie Zero Dark Thirty (out in select theaters Dec. 19) doesn’t flinch when it comes to depicting various “enhanced interrogation” tactics, including waterboarding and other hard-to-watch techniques. In the film, C.I.A. agents Maya (Jessica Chastain) and Dan (Jason Clarke) engage in extended harsh sessions in order to extract crucial information that eventually leads to Osama bin Laden’s location.
But now some people are questioning the film’s treatment of those scenes. In a column in yesterday’s New York Times, Frank Bruni pointed out that the idea that those sorts of tactics produced crucial information is “hardly a universally accepted version of events,” noting “many experts’ belief that torture is unnecessary, yielding as much bad information as good.” And in this week’s New Yorker, former New York Times war correspondent Dexter Filkins writes that the film “appears to have strayed from real life. According to several official sources, including Dianne Feinstein, the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the identity of bin Laden’s courier, whose trail led the C.I.A. to the hideout in Pakistan, was not discovered through waterboarding.” In the New Yorker story, screenwriter/producer Mark Boal responds that “It’s a movie, not a documentary. We’re trying to make the point that waterboarding and other harsh tactics were part of the C.I.A. program.”
Last month, Boal and Bigelow talked to EW about why they included those tough scenes in their film. “It’s part of the history, and we wanted to show the history,” Boal said. “Part of that is re-creating chase sequences, part of it is re-creating the psychological complexity of the interrogations, part of it is re-creating the personal struggles of the agents involved, part of it is re-creating the danger that they were in. 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.”