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March 17, 2013


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I hope you realize that the BEE Twitter account is a parody account and you just got trolled hard by one of the best writers of all time. He's almost Walter Chaw status.


Angelo, I mostly agree with your assertions about the movie's procedural ambiguity, but on the concrete point of whether or not torture is depicted as being useful in identifying Bin Laden's courier, I don't understand how it can be seen as not having a direct impact - - - Maya and Dan sit down with Anmar after having sanctioned weeks of sleep deprivation, which has addled his mind enough so that they're able to a) convince him that he gave them information re: the Saudi bombing (he didn't) and b) were able to subsequently prevent the attack (they weren't). This convinces Anmar that he has already been broken down (he hasn't) and so he gives them the name of the courier - - to be honest I can't remember whether he gives them name knowing that the guy is a courier, or whether it's just a name that turns out to be useful, but the point remains that this information is gleaned as a direct result of coercion enabled by torture methods.

Sorry to bring this up months after you wrote the review, especially since this is probably the most disputed point of the movie, and it's no fun plunging back into this debate again - - - but I was reading Vishnevetsky's article on the movie where he made the same assertion, and I was struck by how strong both of your argument's about the movie's functionalism were, while both suggested that torture actually plays no role in gleaning key information. Am I wrong in thinking otherwise?

Anyways, some comments section somewhere was going to be the victim of my long-delayed, likely much-echoed objection - - - sorry for choosing this one. Otherwise, fabulous review.


Not saying that he's wrong necessarily, but in reference to Greenwald, does it really surprise anyone that he declared seeing the film only confirmed and strengthened his opinions, after he took such an extreme and public stance on it in the first place? How often do people change their minds in those situations?


The guy who wrote 'American Psycho' and has a 12 year-old girl about to get gang-raped in 'Less Than Zero' has a problem with this film's depiction of torture. That's awesome.

Angelo Muredda

Josh -- Good points. I suspect you'll be disappointed by how Boal fudges with time such that the CIA feels like an apparatus that's only tangentially affected by the administration. A fleeting glimpse of Obama speaking on torture is one of the only acknowledgments that policy is dictated from anywhere, though my sense of the agents watching the footage in that scene is that what they're hearing is a variation on what they always hear about torture at the start of new administrations. That vagueness about precedent is a weakness I wouldn't defend, but I would say that if the "cause to the effect" as you put it is 9/11, then the effect isn't so much the government doing bad things but licensing itself to do bad things in this instance. Bigelow and Boal opt out of a larger historical portrait, which you could say is irresponsible, or you could say is not their interest; the starting point of the distress calls feels more like the origin point for this tactical response focalized through Maya than, say, America's descent into terrorism. I think the closest thing we get to an admission of pre-9/11 dirty hands is the inference that Maya has been bred by a deeply self-righteous system: the only half-revealing moment from her is when she says "I believe I was spared to finish the job" like a proper zealot.


I just read over my previous comment and realized it was kind of unclear. What I meant by 9/11 not being the beginning was to say that we all know the US Gov. didn't exactly have clean hands until planes flew into buildings. The reason I feel the need to point out something that everybody knows is that it seems like the conversation on the war on terror always stays within the safety zone of "how could we sink to their level? How could we let them make us this way?", which leads to narratives that cast these terror-fighting types into good guys who use questionable methods for understandable reasons, when the reality is of course that these terror-fighting types have been specialising in terror since before anybody dreamed of declaring wars on nouns. When you look at it that way, the inevitable outcome starts to look less like another dead brown guy (that's the meat of the sandwich, right?) and more like buildings with planes in them, something that, given the history, is certainly no less "understandable" than pretending to drown a guy who may or may not know anything. So what I'm hoping for as I head to the movie theater is to see some awareness on the screen that terrorism isn't just the things that happen to us.


Haven't seen this yet, but knowing how it starts and ends, I can't help wondering how a movie about covert ops and the torture of middle eastern people that ended with 9/11 instead of starting with it would play. I'm open to what this movie has to say about the moral ambiguity of the war on terror, but it sort of sounds like it might not quite be brave enough to acknowledge that 9/11 didn't start anything that wasn't already going on, and the death of bin laden definitely didn't finish it. It sounds like Muredda read the ending as suggestive of a continuation of CIA badness, but it's hard hearing the description of how this movie starts and not seeing that as implying cause to the effect, as though Osama bin Laden made the US government do bad things, and the only lament is that the US failed (understandably, of course) to have the character to turn the other cheek.

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