In her legendary 10.21.67 review of Bonnie and Clyde, Pauline Kael asked, “How do you make a good movie in this country without being jumped on?” Of course, just because a film gets jumped on doesn’t mean it’s good. But when the writer of Zero Dark Thirty is being investigated by the Senate Intelligence Committee…well, that’s definitely being jumped on. The fact that he wrote a great film is just icing on the cake.
Two days ago on AMC’s “This Week,” ZD30 screenwriter and producer Mark Boal told Martha Raddatz that the current Senate inquiry into the Oscar-nominated movie could discourage the making of similar films in the future. “I think that it could discourage other screenwriters or…writers of any kind from making topical movies, it could discourage studios from releasing them,” Boal said.
“Criticism is fine, and we, I can take criticism onboard…but there is a difference between criticism and investigation. And I think that crosses a line that hasn’t been crossed really since the ’40s, when you talk about government investigating movies.”
News of the decision to investigate Boal and Zero Dark Thirty broke about three weeks ago, and the fact that there hasn’t been any kind of rhetorical pushback from Hollywood creatives strikes me as curious if not…cowardly?
Senate Intelligence Committee to Hollywood: “We don’t like how one of your own gathered what we regard as questionable information and we intend to give him some shit about it. One result is that henceforth it’ll be a little more difficult for the next screenwriter to write a movie about some touchy issue…a movie that’ll require talking to high government sources as well as protecting them from disclosure when the heat is on. How do you guys feel about that?” Hollywood to Senate Intelligence Committee: “Uhm…sure, whatever! If you guys want to drag Mark Boal before your committee, fine! Just don’t, you know…don’t do this to any of us down the road.”
Boal dug into the ZD30 material with the use of first-hand sources, working and kvetching and sweating for four-plus years and refining and re-writing all through principal photography. He created a riveting procedural that was at once thorough and truthful and complex, and was a superb character study. [Read his “Written By” article, published in the Nov.-Dec. issue.] And anyone who’s been reading the particulars knows by now that the “ZD30 endorses torture” rap is reprehensible bullshit and that the Stalinists who pushed this line should be ashamed of themselves.
Has the film industry sent a clear and decisive message to Dianne Feinstein and John McCain‘s Senate Intelligence Committee that “we as a community stand by our own” and “take your inquiry and shove it”? No. But it should.
The issue of leaks of classified data is bullshit anyway. In their letter Senators Feinstein, McCain and Levin said the film was wrong. So if that’s true how can it also be classified?
Zero Dark Thirty has been out for well over a month, and has been investigated for over a year. And yet so far nobody — not one person — has identified a single national security leak in the movie. If they had one, wouldn’t you think they’d announce it to the world?
Remember also that these U.S. Senators asked SONY to change the film because it contradicts their beliefs about history.
At the very, very least the industry now has a second reason to give Boal the Best Original Screenplay Oscar, the first being that ZD30 is a brave and brilliant piece of work on its own.
There’s another line from Kael’s Bonnie and Clyde review that applies. Nothing how Arthur Penn and Warren Beatty‘s film had been attacked by pedestrian-minded critics because “it goes too far” and has “divided audiences”, Kael wrote the following: “Though we may dismiss the attacks with ‘What good movie doesn’t give offense?’, the fact is that it is generally only good movies that provoke attacks.”