There are two recent movies involving the US Central Intelligence Agency and claiming to be based on actual events. Ben Affleck’s Argo is about the daring rescue of US Embassy personnel hiding out in Tehran during the Iranian revolution. Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty is about the decade-long manhunt for Osama Bin Laden, culminating in the raid at Abbottabad.
It is useful to measure movies by their aspirations. Argo is a superb entertainment. We liked Argo—we do not mind that it futzes with the facts (the rescue proceeded without a hitch, no last-minute chase on the runway). If it stuck to actual events, it wouldn’t be as much fun. There are no moral dilemmas: who’s going to argue against saving the refugees? When the mission is accomplished, we feel good. Everything is going to be okay.
Zero Dark Thirty is a taut and rigorous examination of America after 9/11. It is very entertaining, but that’s not all it wants. This is not a movie we’re supposed to love, and its handling of the facts has incurred the ire of both the right (American politicians hotly deny that information gained from torture led to the capture of Bin Laden) and the left (Critics condemn the movie for not condemning torture). It demands more than our approval: it presents us with a moral dilemma that will not go away when the credits roll. When the mission is accomplished, we don’t celebrate. Everything is not going to be okay. In the heroes’ quest to punish the enemy, this is what they have become. Was it worth it?
ZD30 is now in theatres.
Rating: * * * * *
Read The Cost of Getting Bin Laden, our review at InterAksyon.com.
The Academy has a long history of being wrong. Kathryn Bigelow was not nominated for Best Director—given the controversy, we saw that coming. Argo got a slew of nominations but apparently directed itself—whatever. But Matthew McConaughey not getting a Best Supporting Actor nod for Magic Mike—that’s just cruel.