Rich Lowry: Washington vs. 'Zero Dark Thirty'

BY RICH LOWRY Published: January 30, 2013
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In “Zero Dark Thirty,” CIA characters warn of congressmen coming after them for running the agency's interrogation program. As it happens, they could have said the same thing about making a movie about the agency's interrogation program.

Washington is aghast at Kathryn Bigelow's fantastically compelling new film. “Zero Dark Thirty” isn't really about interrogation, although you could be forgiven for thinking so given all the debate over its scenes devoted to the agency's harsh questioning of detainees after Sept. 11.

Sens. John McCain, Dianne Feinstein and Carl Levin have panned the movie as inaccurate for suggesting that enhanced interrogation, or what its critics call “torture,” helped find Osama bin Laden. Fine. They can slam it all they want.

Where they have shamefully — and pathetically — overstepped their bounds is in using their positions to badger the CIA over its cooperation with the filmmakers. In December, the trio wrote the acting director of the CIA, Michael Morell, two heavy-breathing letters about the movie, demanding in one of them to learn everything the agency told Bigelow and her team.

The casual viewer of “Zero Dark Thirty” will find it hard to see what Langley could have possibly revealed that is worth investigating. It is, at the end of the day, another Hollywood movie, even if an exceptionally good one. Did the agency's hierarchy tell Bigelow that the hunt for Osama bin Laden was led almost exclusively by a willowy, gorgeous redhead (the protagonist Maya, played by Jessica Chastain)? That the events leading to bin Laden were easily compressed into a straight-line narrative, punctuated by conveniently cinematic dialogue?

The writer of the screenplay, Mark Boal, compares the letters to the investigations of the 1940s. That is overwrought, but if any other Hollywood production were under bipartisan attack, charges of McCarthyism would be flying thick and fast. If Bigelow were targeted by high elected officials for anything other than making a movie supposedly sympathetic to torture, the Academy would be honoring her as a martyr to the First Amendment.

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