How Accurate Is Zero Dark Thirty?

Dec 17 2012 @ 1:20pm

Peter Maass had trouble suspending his disbelief:

Unlike Lincoln, about a man who was killed a century and a half ago, Zero Dark Thirty portrays recent events. We know pretty much everything there is to know about Lincoln—all that's left is to interpret the historical record—but precious little about the hunt for bin Laden. That's why I was not only riveted by the "Bring me people to kill" line, but curious. Did it really happen? Did the film's heroine, who is called Maya, really tell the CIA director, during a meeting about bin Laden's compound, "I am the motherfucker that found that place"? I had fact-or-fiction questions about nearly every scene in the movie. 

He doesn't fault the filmmakers for their fictional constructions, but still worries that, for the most part, the film allowed the government to get its story told uncritically, possibly as a natural byproduct of giving the filmmakers so much access – an issue he himself is familiar with having spent time as an embedded journalist:

[T]he new and odd rub in the case of Zero Dark Thirty is that the product of this privileged access is not just-the-facts journalism but a feature film that merges fact and fiction. An already problematic practice—giving special access to vetted journalists—is now deployed for the larger goal of creating cinematic myths that are favorable to the sponsoring entity (in the case of Zero Dark Thirty, the CIA). If the access that Boal and Bigelow received was in addition to access that nonfiction writers and documentarians received, I would be a bit less troubled, because at least the quotes in history's first draft would be reliable, and that means a lot. But as it stands, we're getting the myth of history before getting the actual history.