I saw it recently and while it was quite engrossing, I found that the scene-to-scene continuity was at times choppy and the inclusion of some episodes seemed arbitrary and tangential to the main story line. For example, there’s a bit about the London transit bombings but nothing about the Bali nightclub ones that killed many more.
But my point was not so much to write a review. It was to raise the issue of the extent to which it was an accurate portrayal of events and how this affects one’s aesthetic judgment of this or any film.
I’ve little doubt that the torture as depicted was very close to the truth. If anything what was on the screen wasn’t as horrific as what actually happened. I certainly drew the conclusions that:
A - Prisoners were tortured
B – Some information was obtained that led to another lead that led to bin Laden.
Leaving aside the morality of torture, whether or not it was the most effective way of obtaining the information is another question. I’ve heard persuasive cases to the contrary. Yet another question is whether the torture depicted in 0D30 actually produced information leading to bin Laden. I’m in no position to know but apparently Senators Feinstein and Levin disagree. Wherever that truth lays, it’s plausible in the movie setting. You can find a fuller discussion of the torture issue in Steven Rockford's blog here.
It was a smaller scene that got me thinking about accurate portrayals. When the protagonist, Maya, has what appears to be her first meeting with a few CIA higher-ups, she isn’t called on to speak until the meeting wraps up. Then the senior guy asks “And who are you?”
“I’m the motherfucker who found bin Laden.” is her reply.
Now, the men in the meeting didn’t talk anything like that, nor was there any indication that they customarily did so when Maya wasn’t around. So her outburst was devoid of context and seemed improbable. But, if it actually happened then I felt I could excuse the director for including it.
Something seems wrong here. Ought the aesthetic integrity of a movie (somewhat fictionalized or not) to depend upon whether or not the events portrayed actually happened? Intellectually I’m inclined to say no. If it adds something to the story, if it entertains or enlightens, then why should anyone care whether in real life it took place precisely as shown? Unfortunately, I sometimes react as though it matters.
Let me cite a couple of different examples. The Hurricane covers the life of Ruben Carter with his wrongful murder conviction being the central story. In that movie there’s a police chief in Patterson, NJ who is Carter’s nemesis and persecutor over a couple of decades. In reality there were several police chiefs. Some had no dealings with Carter and some were neutral in their treatment. I could excuse telescoping them into one for narrative simplicity and the plausibility of some chiefs hounding him. OK, so historical accuracy carries no weight here.
Carter is also shown losing his one title fight by decision. In the film it’s portrayed as a travesty with the announcer saying something like “In my 20 years of boxing I’ve never seen such a robbery.”
In fact, the decision was uncontroversial and prompted by the film, some boxing experts watched and scored it again and came to the same conclusion as the judges. This irritated me no end. Embellishing the discrimination Carter must have faced prior to the murder seemed like cheating. It was as though a more nuanced portrayal of his background would have somehow spoiled the drama of his wrongful conviction and eventual acquittal. Plus it’s unfair to Joey Giardello, the champ who defeated Carter. So historical accuracy counts a great deal here.
Another movie I greatly enjoy is They Died With Their Boots On. It’s the life and times of General Custer. Because he is played by the dashing Errol Flynn, Custer is depicted as a noble friend of the Indians who is betrayed and manipulated into fighting with them when he only wanted to protect their land claims. None of this historical balderdash bothers me though I’m unsure why not. Maybe because I’ve learned that Hollywood movies, especially those from the 30s and 40s, were seldom historically accurate and maybe it’s because I’m a big fan of Errol Flynn.
If anyone knows how to sort through this confusion, please don’t keep it to yourself.