Art Callaham: "Zero Dark Thirty" worthy of your time

January 27, 2013|By ART CALLAHAM

I never expected to do film critiques in this column, but late last year I commented on “Lincoln,” and now, “Zero Dark Thirty” is, in my opinion, deserving of a few lines.

First, if you’re going to see “Zero Dark Thirty” because you’re looking for a great screenplay, or award-winning cinematography, or superb acting, you won’t get any of that. The movie is mostly a documentary, more like what you would see on The History Channel — certainly not a movie like “Saving Private Ryan” or “Platoon.”

Yet, the story line is complex, compelling and played out in a fashion that makes the more than two-hour movie extremely watchable and exciting. Even though the outcome is well-known, the journey to the end is intriguing and suspenseful. And most of all, the movie provides food for thought for many hours of debate.

I won’t say that the movie was entertaining, but I give it a big thumbs-up for its value in surfacing a continuing discussion about torture, intelligence agency/military tactics and America’s role in the “war on terrorism.” Although I personally support “Lincoln” or “Argo” for the Film Academy’s “Best Picture Award,” I would not be put out if “Zero Dark Thirty” won. 

Beyond the movie, what about the discussion topics that I believe the movie raised? As for torture, personally I was not repulsed by the movie’s portrayal of the types of torture utilized by Americans to extract information that led to the death of “arch-terrorist” Osama bin Laden. I wasn’t there, and I expect most of you weren’t, either, so the movie’s portrayal amid myriad reports and rumors about America’s torture tactics are, at best, conjecture on the part of the untrained/uninitiated (you and me).

Whether you agree or not, I believe that in some cases the “ends do justify the means.” In the end, when it comes to saving the lives of innocents (and I do believe that eliminating bin Laden has saved and will continue to save the lives of innocent people throughout the world), severe means are justified when dealing with those you believe to be responsible.

Recently, I received an email relating, once again, the story of “post turtles.” As the story goes, whenever you see a turtle on top of a fence post, you might come to several conclusions. First, you might conclude the turtle didn’t get up there by itself. Second, you might conclude that the turtle is wondering how it got up there and what to do while it’s there. And, finally, you might conclude that those who put the turtle there didn’t know what they were doing.

The analogy of the post turtle has been attributed  to numerous “administrations,” both in the public and private sector. While watching “Zero Dark Thirty,” I thought about the coordinators of the various pieces involved in the elimination of bin Laden. According to the movie, individually, the special operators, the CIA, the NSA and other parts of our intelligence/military establishment seemed to operate well. However, the coordinators and those who appointed them fit well in the post turtle anology.

My mother always told me, “Don’t believe half of what you see, little of what you hear and nothing you read in Reader’s Digest.” Really, I have nothing against Reader’s Digest, but Mom’s advice has served me well over the years because most issues are too complex to be easily digestible, rumors are passed on by wagging tongues and most complex issues are clouded by the “smoke and mirrors” we’re shown. So, what about America’s role in the war on terrorism? Is it just smoke and mirrors, or is it necessary and justified?

Are we fed a steady stream of smoke and mirror information by our leaders? Does the mainstream and fringe media feed us digestible media bites about complex issues (remember what comes out of your digestive tract when you consume what is not good for you)? And are we as Americans prone to listen to “wags” who have little knowledge or experience in the complex issues surrounding global terrorism?

“Zero Dark Thirty” is a documentary woven into a cinema tour de force. Is the movie factual? Is it accurate? Does it tell the whole story? Obviously, I can’t answer those questions for you. I believe it is worth your time to go see it. Then research the war on terrorism, contemplate torture, review our national security structure and draw your own conclusions. I know I have drawn mine. 

Art Callaham is a community activist and president of the Washington County Free Library Board of Trustees.

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