M.K.: You're thinking: oh yay, another political rant! Well, that's right. But instead of Edward Said, you get Steve Coll in the NYRB, who, after noting the film's many deviations from the historical record, comments on its role in shaping the actual debate over torture in this country, which might even be more important than the Oscars:
As with discourse about climate change policy, the persistence of
on-the one-hand, on-the-other forms of argument about the value
of officially sanctioned torture represents a victory for those who
would justify such abuse. Zero Dark Thirty has performed no
public service by enlarging the acceptability of that form of
More to the point, I'm mystified by those clever critics (not just unclever ones like Michael Moore!) who have persuaded themselves that the film actually offers a searing indictment of torture. It doesn't. Making the case that 'we' have to do bad shit in order to prevent worse shit from happening is not a critique, it's a justification. After ZD30 you're not supposed to sign up for enhanced interrogation school at Yale, but you are supposed to understand that these are grim compromises we must accept in our global pursuit of Evil. It's not a pleasant realization -- it might even make you cry, like Jessica Chastain in the final scene -- but mostly it just makes you grateful that there are other people out there, getting their hands dirty in the struggle to keep us safe. In the end, it's not that different from the lesson of Toby Keith's classic jingo anthem "American Soldier": "I'm out there on the front lines, so sleep in peace to-night..."