Oscar Contenders

Oscars are Over, Senate Drops 'Zero Dark Thirty' Probe

Mission Accomplished!

Jason Clarke in Zero Dark Thirty
Jason Clarke in Zero Dark Thirty
Photo: Columbia Pictures

Whether you thought the Senate Intelligence Committee probe investigating Zero Dark Thirty was legit, or political grab or attempt to slow any kind of momentum the film may have had in terms of awards prospects or otherwise, the just announced decision to close the inquiry into screenwriter Mark Boal's contacts with the CIA reeks of all the above. Well, except that legit part.

The Reuters article making the announcement adds:

The government cooperated as much, if not more, on Argo, the film about the 1979-81 hostage crisis in Iran that won the best picture Oscar. Actor-director Ben Affleck and his team were allowed to film scenes in the lobby of the CIA building in Langley, Virginia; the Zero Dark Thirty crew did no such filming.

Is it a matter of coincidence the film that paints America in the most positive light possible, to such an extent it has been massively criticized for over-stepping jingoistic boundaries, is left alone while the one that purports to tell as unflinching a depiction of events as possible within reason is the one that falls under fire? Whether you have a bullseye out of Zero Dark Thirty or not, the hypocrisy is clearly visible.

What's equally frustrating is that it looks as if any potential findings that may or may not have come out of the inquiry won't be released. I guess we can just trust the Senate committee got to the bottom of that torture issue they had a problem with... in movies.

Now I'm not suggesting Senate chairwoman Dianne Feinstein and fellow senators Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) were specifically hoping to stop Zero Dark Thirty's chances at the Oscars, but I am suggesting the opportunity was taken to move the spotlight.

Immediately following its first screenings, Zero Dark Thirty was looked at as a Best Picture front-runner. Its screenplay jumped to the top as did Jessica Chastain in the Best Actress race and Kathryn Bigelow for Best Director. Once all was said and done, it shared the Sound Editing Oscar with Skyfall... Mission Accomplished?

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  • Ron Oneal Fresh

    So If ZDT won Best Picture, fair to say they would have continue this probe?

    • http://letterboxd.com/ragingtaxidrver/ RagingTaxiDriver

      I would agree with that. The tides shifted constantly (Master, Argo, Les Miserables, Lincoln, ZD30, and Argo in the end) throughout the Oscar race, and had there been no probe, I think we would all be discussing ZD30 as the Best Picture.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Xarnis/ Xarnis

    Man, I loved Zero Dark Thirty. All the controversy surrounding it is a shame. It's a great movie.

  • theJackal

    Everyone knows that the UnitedT States utilized the torture techniques on display in Zero Dark Thirty. Water boarding, beatings, sleep deprivation, the torture boxes, excessive amounts of loud rock music; all of these techniques were used on various detainees. I'm not so sure what the Senate is all up in arms over.

    Thems the facts

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/AS/ AS

      The purpose of the investigation was to determine to what extent the CIA was collaborating with the filmmakers and whether or not the filmmakers were given access to classified materials.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/AS/ AS

    Ha, trust me, the Senate had no issue with ZDT or the government embedded filmmaking. It was just a response to the outcry. Just politics. Nothing was actually going to be done about it. They just had to make it look as if they were going to investigate it. What people don't seem to understand is that films like Zero Dark Thirty and Argo are wet dreams for the members of the power elite. Those films can often do what no political speech can: Sell sell sell. Whether it's a war or just the notion of American Exceptionalism. You need salesmen, and Affleck & Bigelow are as good as they come. So yeah, sometimes you have to pretend like you're "looking into the situation," but nothing changes and no one is held accountable.

  • LoveforBuzz

    Zero Dark Thirty was the best film in my opinion. I think it is a shame they got all up in arms about the 5 minute torture scene which we have seen in films forever and see hints of it from Tv such as Alias, Homeland, Covert Affairs, 24. Come on. Be real. Let the movie stand as is a movie. People just love to jump on a hate bandwagon to escalate their name. Yeah, don't cause no one cares!

  • LoveforBuzz

    It was a great film. Very intense and very patriotic! Maya's passion was the audience's passion, and the last sequence- the raid- was so brilliantly directed, edited, and to me sealed the deal on it ranking a little higher than Argo and Django- both of which are fine entertaining films with their own cinematic merit. And I am ashamed Hollywood took side with politics and dismissed Zero Dark Thirty. I'm not saying Argo wasn't worthy- it is. Do I wish one of Quentin's films could win best picture, yes. But Zero Dark Thirty was a fantastic FILM. Not an advertisement for torture, but a film that like Argo wanted to show the history of an era in American History.Afyer this is over people will look back and wonder why Zero Dark was dismissed. And again, not saying Argo wasn't deserving. Lol. Just in case people think I think otherwise.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/AS/ AS

      Yes, very patriotic indeed.

  • theJackal

    Here's what I said in my review of Zero Dark Thirty:

    "I don't believe this is a film that endorses torture. The scenes are simply presented as fact. Torture was utilized. Obama ordered the torture to stop. Bin Laden was eventually killed. I think this is the best way to present this material. Instead of preaching at the viewer, we are left to make up our own minds as to how we feel about all of this. Still, I found myself very conflicted after viewing these scenes of brutality."

    Thems the facts

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/AS/ AS

      Not to be the one guy on RoS who consistently takes ZDT to task (even though I am the only guy on RoS who consistently takes ZDT to task) but whether or not you were conflicted about torture while watching those scene is irrelevant. The film posits that torture resulted in a suspect revealing the name of the courier. The fact of the matter (as we know it) is that the name of the courier was already known by the government long before anyone was tortured. But we, the audience, don't learn this until about 45 minutes later. Therefore, the impression the audience is left with is that torture ended up revealing information that was vital to the capture/killing of Bin Laden. The order in which this information was revealed was conscious manipulation by the filmmakers.

      *No one has criticized Zero Dark Thirty for merely "depicting" torture. No one.

      • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/SirTrey/ Sir Trey

        Here's my problem with that statement, AS...the film depicts the torture as eventually leading to a name, yes. But it's not how they actually FIND the courier...a name is useless without other work, and that's what, oh, the entire rest of the film covers. In the film, Bin Laden is found through judicious work and an intern stumbling across some information buried years ago, which calls into question whether everything beforehand was worth it in the first place.

        But - and I say this as someone against torture - I don't think it's that unreasonable to think that at least a few names came out during those "enhanced interrogations". But it was only part of the process. It's not like the film shows the man being tortured and then saying, "Ok, so the courier lived at THIS address and delivers messages to Bin Laden, who lives HERE." As the film constantly gets across, it was one part of a long, arduous process.

        Despite that I thought ZDT was the best film of the year, I wasn't too annoyed with Argo winning...until now. The hypocrisy is ridiculous, though not unexpected.

      • BCB

        This is a quote from the Director of the CIA:

        “The real story is that in order to put the puzzle of intelligence together that led us to bin Laden, there was a lot of intelligence,” Panetta said. “There were a lot of pieces out there that were a part of that puzzle. Yes, some of it came from some of the tactics that were used at that time — interrogation tactics that were used. But the fact is we put together most of that intelligence without having to resort to that. I think we could have gotten bin Laden without that.”

        For the life of me, I can't understand why people continue to substitute an alternate reality (that torture did not provide intelligence in leading to Bin Laden) for the truth. The CIA director on multiple occasions confirms that the techniques provided intelligence, and yet, people still continue to deny it. Hilarious.

        • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/AS/ AS

          What I find hilarious is that Panetta has changed and revised his statement on the subject so many times that it's often difficult to understand what his position on the matter actually is.

          "that torture did not provide intelligence in leading to Bin Laden" - This controversy was not born out of such vague statements. Again, (and how many times do I have to repeat myself before the information penetrates) it is widely known that the name of the courier was NOT first obtained through torture. But curiously, this reality is not depicted in the film. No, the first time the audience learns the name of the courier is immediately after a man has been tortured. It is only 45 minutes later (in a brief, offhanded dialogue exchange) that we learn that the government already knew the name. By this point, the only thing that most general audiences will remember is that tortured yielded crucial information that led to the assassination of Bin Laden.

          • Jarrod

            So, your response is subterfuge, huh? In which you'll actually ignore the point that torture did provide information.

            • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/AS/ AS

              Exactly.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/AS/ AS

    "I don't think it's that unreasonable to think that at least a few names came out during those 'enhanced interrogations'." - Pure speculation.

    I won't restate what I said above in different words, so I'll let what I said stand.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/AS/ AS

      That was meant as a response to Sir Trey.

      • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/SirTrey/ Sir Trey

        So what, no one said anything during the entire process?

        Regardless, even ignoring that point...I'm not sure how putting the discovery that we already knew the courier's name after the torture scenes, and not before, implies that the torture led to that information. They already had that information, torture notwithstanding, and that felt pretty clear. Why include that scene at all if the filmmakers were "consciously manipulating" things?

        • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/AS/ AS

          "So what, no one said anything during the entire process?" - That is entirely irrelevant. The controversy being discussed concerns the circumstances surrounding the reveal of the couriers name. And the fact is that this name was not first revealed through torture.

          "I'm not sure how putting the discovery that we already knew the courier's name after the torture scenes, and not before, implies that the torture led to that information." - I'm sorry you don't understand that concept but there's clearly nothing I can do for you.

          • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/SirTrey/ Sir Trey

            Well no, they had information to that effect in documentation before the torture occurred, as the film indicates when that intern delivers it to Maya, but for reasons briefly mentioned on screen that I don't remember - I think it was attributed to general post-9/11 chaos - it was buried and left undiscovered.

            What I'm not understanding is this: had the intern delivered that information to Maya, then they went and tortured someone and got more concrete info, then it would seem very clear that the implication was that without that subsequent torture they wouldn't have found Bin Laden. However, they torture someone and proceed to find very little for an hour, until the actual name is delivered via a memo and things actually break out. So why is it the torture that led to further discovery and not the name/memo? Abu Ahmed was a common name and useless without that further information, so logically the information that made it not useless (i.e. the memo) was what led to a reveal.

            • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/AS/ AS

              "then it would seem very clear that the implication was that without that subsequent torture they wouldn't have found Bin Laden."

              - I don't understand this line of reasoning. In fact, the implication would've been the opposite of that. If they had received the memo first, THEN tortured the man (who would've just given them the information they already had) the torture would have come across as pointless (since it didn't provide them with any information they didn't already have). This seems pretty straightforward to me.

              "However, they torture someone and proceed to find very little for an hour, until the actual name is delivered via a memo and things actually break out."

              - It's the information they obtain through torture which spearheads the whole investigation into Abu Ahmed. If they hadn't obtained that information early on, years would've been wasted. The ultimate reveal of the memo doesn't do anything, since they already know the name of the courier. All it tells them is that they had that information all along. It's nothing more than a red herring at that point.

              I suppose the key point in all of this is that you and I have already given this subject far more thought than most general audiences. If general audiences walk away with ANY impressions from this sequence, it will be that torture yielded crucial information that resulted in the assassination of Osama Bin Laden. How many people are going to remember that brief little scene about the memo? Meanwhile, nearly 40 minutes of the film are devoted to the torturing of a suspect who ultimately reveals essential information.

              Side note: in a rather revealing display of what I'm talking about; American radio host Howard Stern went on a long rant about how much he reveled in the torture sequences, saying that the opening moments (which feature the screams of 9/11 victims) invoked a passionate feeling of revenge. He talks about the great pleasure he took in watching the alleged "terrorists" being brutalized. After watching the film, he went as far as to suggest that the entire Middle East should be nuked.

              While that's only the experience one person had watching the film, I fear that Zero Dark Thirty evoked similar feelings in many (far more conservative) Americans.