Bigelow again teamed up with screenwriter Mark Boal for her next project, 2012’s “Zero Dark Thirty.” The film is a political thriller about the 10-year quest to capture Osama bin Laden following 9/11.
Almost universally lauded by critics and a huge box office success — it was No. 1 during its first weekend of wide release and also grossed more than $132 million worldwide during its entire run — “Zero Dark Thirty” nonetheless generated a massive amount of controversy.
Most of the criticism centered on Bigelow’s directorial choices concerning CIA interrogation techniques and the killing of bin Laden, which actually happened while the film was being shot. Were they interrogation techniques or torture, and is this movie playing them down so much that it’s actually endorsing torture?
Some felt the film glossed over waterboarding and other forms of interrogation the CIA claimed were integral in finding bin Laden and made it seem like those forms of interrogation were far more important than they actually were.
Bigelow was also criticized for not condemning the controversial interrogation techniques, particularly by The New Yorker. Longtime staff writer Jane Mayer wrote that if Bigelow “were making a film about slavery in antebellum America … the story would focus on whether the cotton crops were successful.”
To her credit, Bigelow took the criticism in stride.
“Where there’s clarity in the world, there’s clarity in the film. Osama bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad, Pakistan — that’s clarity. And where there’s ambiguity in the world, there’s ambiguity in the film,” she told Time magazine in 2013. “If you look at the experts on the subject matter, whether it’s Mark Bowden [author of The Finish: The Killing of Osama bin Laden] or David Ignatius [of the Washington Post], they all say that some information came out of the detainee program. Maybe once the Senate report is declassified, we’ll have more information. Maybe advocating a little more transparency in government would be a healthy step.”