Skip to main content
A Magazine for Sheffield

Dramatic Veracity vs Factual Accuracy.


Kathryn Bigelow is under attack. The first woman director ever to win an Oscar had to be aware that making a film like Zero Dark Thirty is asking for trouble. What she probably didn't account for was that the siege she was to face would be as tight and comprehensive as the one her film depicts: the covert operation that took down Bin Laden. Nevertheless, it's the depiction of everything that led to it that has raised so much controversy in so many quarters.

The most vociferous comes from author and political activist Naomi Wolf, who not only condemns the film's legitimisation of torture, but goes as far as to compare Bigelow with Leni Riefenstahl, the filmmaker best known for her Nazi propaganda. And she certainly makes a good case for it.

The way the film establishes the link between evidence attained through torture and the intelligence that propelled the finding of Bin Laden is contrived. How accurate it is, we may never know, but it does almost literally say that 'it was not from torture, but it kind of was - so that's ok'. And then the narrative moves on...

To some degree, Zero Dark Thirty is the counterpoint to Paul Greengrass's Green Zone. If the latter takes on the duty of coming clean about the non-existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the former is an endorsed alibi which excuses a lot of the US government's unlawful actions.

The trajectory of Bigelow's career has been uneven, to say the least. She's gone from an underrated filmmaker - capable of delivering the brilliant Point Break and a visionary flop like Strange Days - to a considerably overrated Hollywood commodity.

The Hurt Locker transformed her from edgy indie darling to Oscarwinning juggernaut overnight and the rest is history. In regards to this multi award-winning film, a strange phenomenon occurs when I attempt to watch it. Twice I tried and twice I've fallen asleep. And I never, ever fall asleep watching a film. Considering I have a 'personal interest' in landmines - disabling them was my father's duty during the Angolan colonial war of the 1970s - I daresay this reveals more about the film than my sleeping patterns.

On the other hand, I count Zero Dark Thirty as one of the most gripping films I've seen in quite some time. Lead actress Jessica Chastain delivers a monumental performance in a role that we've seen before, but that is made fresh through her emotional intelligence. As for the filmmaking, it's economical to the extent that you forget about the unprecedented access Bigelow was given into the whole thing; be it in leaked details from the CIA or support from the army.

All that surrounds and is included in this film poses questions that we should all care about, but ultimately it is Bigelow who will need to come to terms with her pursuit of veracity, and with the claim of accuracy the film makes.



Is it really a war when the might of an entire nation supported by endless munitions takes on a small country that is more prone to being ruled than anything else? Is it really a war when a group of six men armed to the teeth shoot dead a woman with an AK-47 in a straw hut defending her children? In all, can the Vietnam 'War' be considered in films as having been depicted accurately?

As always there are two sides to this argument. Some argue that what America did in Vietnam was completely justified and the 'right thing to do' to stop the global rise of Communism. Others believe it's really best summarised as a fly being repeatedly stepped on by a boot. Still, never has one nation done so much to convince the world through the medium of cinema that they won and that they did the best for all involved.

Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket provides us with a realistic perspective of a war fought by two very different sides. The human effects are never far from the eye. The drug culture, prostitution and poverty that American involvement caused are present throughout.

Private Joker is the embodiment of irony, with his peace badge and "Born to Kill" emblazoned on his helmet. As a war correspondent he rarely has to kill or even fight. When he finally kills someone, there's no pride or sense of victory. He realises he's a murderer. His experience of war is survival - refreshing, you might argue, in a world where films often depict American involvement in foreign affairs as righteous.

Nothing depicts the American attitude better than the line: 'If they run they're a VC, if they stand still they're a well-disciplined VC.' It is delivered by a drugged-up, half-naked machine gun operator from the door of a helicopter as he guns down innocent bystanders. This is the truth of Vietnam - America came, they caused havoc and then they left. No war was won and no conflict was averted.

One only has to stand at the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington DC and gaze over the flat black slate to realise that nobody is proud of what happened there. If you want a slice of this truth, Mr Kubrick summarises it perfectly for you in this honest classic.


Next from Filmreel

Mental Health in Film.

JOÃO PAULO SIMÕES. There's a scene at the core of Andrzej Zulawski's 1981 film Possession that will stay with you forever, if you ever dare…

More Filmreel

Next article in issue 60

Sylvia Broeckx: Hug An Atheist

Sheffield-based filmmaker Sylvia Broeckx is on a mission - to persuade the people of America that her fellow atheists aren't terrifying,…

More Film

Flaming Assassin is catching fire on the festival circuit

Filmed in Sheffield, the crime thriller by filmmaker, dancer and martial artist Nathan Geering has been picking up awards. Nathan told us more about kung fu, ‘fire breaking’ and being invited to train with Jackie Chan’s stunt team.

More Film