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Opening Arguments

Bigelow's war

It's not often a single review can make me want to see a movie I previously had no interest in, but this critique of "Zero Dark Thirty" by Reason magazine's Kurt Loder does:

Zero Dark Thirty, Katherine Bigelow’s terrific new terror-war thriller, achieves something rare in a Hollywood movie: It presents a hot-button subject—torture as a means of American intelligence-gathering—without the usual moral nudging. The paroxysms of outrage that this has stirred in some precincts of the pundit class are baffling, but predictable. These commentators are offended that no character in the film has been deputized to express the revulsion we should be feeling about what we’re seeing—as if we, unlike the pundits, can’t feel that revulsion without some sort of condescending assistance. 

[. . .]

Bigelow and her screenwriter, Mark Boal (with whom she also collaborated on the Oscar-winning Hurt Locker), simply show us what happened, leaving us to come to our own conclusions about the CIA’s dubious methods. The filmmakers assume, refreshingly, that we are intelligent enough to do so. Before the movie’s release, the movie was decried on the right (by people who hadn’t seen it) as a commercial for the reelection of President Obama, which it certainly isn’t. (Obama is only seen in a passing shot on a television screen.) More recently, critics on the left (some of whom hadn’t seen it either) have been condemning the film as an endorsement of torture. That this is likewise untrue will be evident to anyone who actually watches the picture.

[. . .]

This is a singular film. We see what is happening, and we’re allowed to have our own thoughts about it, and to carry them with us out of the theatre. It’s a movie that follows you home.

I've always been a fan of war movies, but even most of the ones I like have serious flaws. Some ignore or dismiss the horrors of war in favor of heated patriotic fervor, and the ones that preach against war tend to be condescendingly obvious. It's rare to find one that treats us as reasoning adults -- able to judge the actions we see and draw moral conclusions from them -- as Loder says this film does.

I don't know what draws Katherine Bigelow to war movies or whether she intends to continue in that direction, but she is showing a remarkable ability to get inside war and the soldiers' world. War presents us with the most agonizing moral dilemmas ever explored, and she'd be my candidate to lead the search party.

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