Excess Hollywood: ‘Hurt Locker’ director takes on the hunt for bin Laden

From the propaganda shorts of World War II to thinly veiled recruitment initiatives like this year’s “Battleship” and “Act of Valor,” Hollywood has a long history of cooperating with the U.S. military. Yet when it comes to dramatizing real-life events within our Armed Forces, the industry’s concern for accuracy is often marginalized or dismissed altogether for the sake of producing easily digestible, inoffensive entertainment.

Kathryn Bigelow, the first female director to win an Academy Award after helming the Iraq War drama “The Hurt Locker” back in 2008, won praise from military insiders for realistically depicting the perils faced by Explosive Ordinance Disposal teams. Some veterans, however, were quick to dismiss the film’s lead character, played by Jeremy Renner, as a cavalier stereotype.

Now Bigelow and her “Hurt Locker” screenwriter Mark Boal are returning to active duty as battlefield chroniclers, this time in “Zero Dark Thirty,” an exhaustive recollection of the decade-long manhunt for al-Qaida mastermind and millennial boogeyman Osama bin Laden. The movie, due for a Jan. 11 release following an Oscar-qualifying run in late December, boasts a cast of ascendant stars, including Jessica Chastain (“The Help”) and Joel Edgerton (“Warrior”). It also contains a ripped-from-the-headlines sense of urgency that culminates in a meticulous reenactment of Seal Team Six’s now-famous raid on the terrorist leader’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

In the months leading up to the election, Bigelow and Boal had to contend with a flurry of allegations, mostly from conservative pundits, claiming that “Zero Dark Thirty” was being rushed into theaters to bolster President Obama’s poll numbers by reminding the public of his decision to order the raid. Columbia Pictures responded by pushing back the film’s release date, originally scheduled for mid-October, and compelling Boal to emphatically state that the movie’s focus was far removed from politics.

On paper, “Zero Dark Thirty” reads like a jingoist’s wet dream, a triumphant retelling of the operation that killed America’s most notorious enemy. Yet the film itself has become a bone of contention among government bigwigs, particularly after the publication of Matt Bissonnette’s “No Easy Day,” a book that purportedly gives a first-person account of the Abbottabad mission, and the recent furor over the news that seven members of Team Six disclosed classified information while serving as paid consultants for Electronic Arts’ “Medal of Honor: Warfighter” video game. For some in the military brass, our special forces are in serious danger of overexposure, and to them, movies like “Zero Dark Thirty” are an integral part of that problem.

The movie’s reportedly bleak tone is also an issue. Early reviews suggest that Bigelow hasn’t lost her knack for blending gritty violence with ideological ambiguity, meaning that “Zero Dark Thirty” won’t be shying away from the ugly interrogation methods used to extract Bin Laden’s whereabouts or the grim details of what happened inside the compound, which was crawling with women and children when the Seals stormed the gates. Personally, I’m glad the film is aiming for accuracy over sheer entertainment, but a morally muddled narrative could alienate audiences expecting a simple, patriotic action flick about the death of the boogeyman.

  • Updated Nov. 26, 2012 at 8:24 am
  • Edited by Joanna Hlavacek