What I find troubling and infuriating is that by turning the hunt for bin Laden, however expertly, into a glorified police procedural, Bigelow neutralizes the most controversial and charged aspects of this story. (To no avail, I might add: The film is controversial anyway.) President George W. Bush is never shown, ditto Dick Cheney, Iraq is AWOL, and President Obama is only glimpsed in a 2008 campaign interview. This is a bit like making a movie about the D-Day invasion without referencing FDR or Eisenhower.
Actually, it’s much worse, since the film traffics in scenes of torture. Its first full sequence, in fact, has a CIA officer, Dan (Jason Clarke), brutally interrogating a man (Reda Kateb) suspected of having information about bin Laden’s courier while Maya, new to all this, observes in hushed compliance. The waterboarding and pummeling and all the rest is presented as crucial to bin Laden’s eventual capture. Mission accomplished, sort of.
In a recent New Yorker piece on Bigelow and the film, the political reporter Dexter Filkins wrote: “According to several official sources, including Dianne Feinstein, the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the identity of bin Laden’s courier, whose trail led the C.I.A. to the hideout in Pakistan, was not discovered through waterboarding. ‘It’s a movie, not a documentary,’ Boal said. ‘We’re trying to make the point that waterboarding and other harsh tactics were part of the C.I.A. program.’ ”