Most critics Hollywood’s version of the hunt for Osama bin Laden have honed in on its implication that ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ (i.e. torture) indirectly led to the discovery of bin Laden’s Abbottabad safe house, even though most experts say torture is counterproductive.John McCain said the movie made him sick and co-wrote a letter with two other senators that stated the film was “grossly inaccurate and misleading.”
Those points are fair, but my main gripe is that it’s just not a very good story.
The main emotional tensions are the need to “protect the homeland” — accentuated by broadcasts of various terrorist plots over the years — and the brief grief when seven CIA agents are killed during a botched bribe.
The rest of the plot reads like a John Yoo memo.
One of the first lines of the movie is “He has to learn how helpless he is.” That strategy is known as inducing “learned helplessness,” which famed DoD interrogator Air Force Col. Steve Kleinman said comes from “a system drawn specifically from the communist interrogation model that was used to generate propaganda rather than intelligence.”
So during the first hour, which involves a steady stream of suspects being waterboarded, crammed in boxes, etc., one presumes that the torture provides context but information gained will be largely useless. However, the characters subsequently take the torture intel and buy a Kuwaiti prince a Ferrari to get more intel, which helps them track down Osama’s courier and eventually kill bin Laden.
Game. Set. Match.
What’s making critics angry is that the movie never says torture didn’t help catch bin Laden, and seems to imply the opposite by laying out how the CIA tortured a bunch of people, then caught bin Laden.
What bothers me as a viewer is that there is no tension in how the issue is portrayed — talk of torture disappears after President Obama is shown in 2008 saying “We do not torture” — despite the potential to riff on a controversial issue.
Nevertheless, there are some cool parts. I enjoyed the emotional payoff — star agent Maya sitting alone on her post-raid flight and crying after being asked where in the world she wants to go.
In that moment she seems to realise how flat of a character she is.
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