“There’s no political agenda in the film. Full stop. Period.” As much as screenwriter Mark Boal may wish his words would guide public knowledge about the Kathryn Bigelow-directed film, “Zero Dark Thirty” — which details the U.S. government’s raid on Osama bin Laden as depicted through Boal’s script — the truth of its subject matter and an election year simply makes that impossible. Conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch has been at the forefront of proving Boal’s statement wrong, but after requests made in January were finally approved for CIA and Department of Defense documents detailing their involvement to be released, the results finally paint a picture more of minor fandom than political maneuvering.
Spanning across four large digital documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, the fruits of Judicial Watch’s labor were to supposedly show how “the Obama administration granted Boal and Bigelow unusual access to agency information in preparation for their film,” according to the organization. Through the words and actions of government media relations officials though, what’s emphasized instead are the actions taken by the government to learn about the then-varied bin Laden projects in development and conversations with the team behind “The Hurt Locker,” a film that officials visibly state affection for in the documents, and what were the best and most intriguing methods of doing so.
That’s not to say there weren’t thorough exchanges of information between filmmakers and government. Boal is noted as interviewing both CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell as well as the translator present at the May 2, 2011 raid that killed bin Laden, and going to CIA and DOD sources for other minor specifics, such as floor schematics accurately matching bin Laden’s hideout (which the CIA confirmed). There also exists perhaps some preferential bias from CIA officials toward the project with “the most money behind it, and two Oscar winners on board,” extending further to Bigelow (whose voice remains disappointingly scarce throughout) and her appealing involvement with military charity Joining Forces.
Nowhere though are any exchanges confirming Judicial Watch’s claim of rule-breaking, or at least not on the government’s end. In a blatant case of throwing a colleague under the bus, New York Times national security writer Mark Mazzetti leaked to the CIA another column about the bin Laden film from writer Maureen Dowd, which took a swipe at Obama’s administration for having “outsourced the job of manning up the president’s image to Hollywood.” Even though Boal has already stated Obama is never even depicted, and the release date for “Zero Dark Thirty” has wisely been pushed from its previous October bow to after Election Day in December, that opinion will continue to remain.
Stopping just short of exclaiming “Blue Steel” to be an underrated masterpiece, the star-struck exchanges (complete with emoticons) between government officials and Bigelow/Boal do mildly raise cause for alarm, but any actual over-sharing of information on either the CIA or DOD’s part remains notably absent in the documents — and therefore still plenty exposed to politically minded accusations. For now though, “Zero Dark Thirty” remains shrouded behind a hint-filled teaser and a massive cast list, including Joel Edgerton, Jessica Chastain, Edgar Ramirez, Kyle Chandler, Mark Strong, Chris Pratt, Jason Clarke, Harold Perrineau, Nash Edgerton, Jennifer Ehle, Fares Fares, and so we’ll have to wait until December 19th to see the extent of Bigelow and Boal’s impressive research. [THR/EW]