At sister Variety blog Wilshire & Washington, Ted Johnson writes about the simmering controversy surrounding "Zero Dark Thirty." An excerpt:
... Sony, Bigelow and Boal certainly could have not have been under any illusions that their movie, which is racking up many of the early Oscar season awards and critics' 2012 picks, would sail through without any tinge of controversy. They are tackling events that have only recently unfolded, that journalists are still uncovering and that are too close to the past to benefit from the perspective of historians.
The question is whether the argument that the movie somehow elevates torture as useful --- something that Bigelow and Boal deny, as they say they are conveying what happened, not judgments of what happened --- will create the type of controversy that will hurt its awards season chances. Given the movie's subject matter, it's a trivial point, for sure, but the kudos punditry is also part of Hollywood culture this time of year. It's also a reality of the Oscar campaign: Other movies based on real-life events, like "A Beautiful Mind" and "The Hurricane," have had to weather an onslaught of doubt, sometimes triggered by the competition. That's why we're likely to hear in the coming weeks a lot of pushback against the idea that the movie glorifies torture (the movie also features footage of President Obama ordering an end to it). Ultimately, the movie will speak for itself, and even before its release it already has a substantial list of plaudits. But so does "Lincoln."
My takeaway from the movie was that it seemed to show the torturous methods for exactly what they were, without taking a decisive stand for or against them. In fact, one of the things that impressed me about "Zero" was how apolitical it was.
At a minimum, there's no minimizing in the film how cruel torture is.
In an Oscar race as close as this one looks to be, it won't take much to tip the scales. If there's an Oscar voter who fears what it might mean for the org's legacy to endorse "Zero," then it's easy enough to find an alternative this winter to vote for. However, I'm not convinced that many people who see "Zero" will find it endorses torture the way its political critics — including those who have voiced opinions without having seen it yet — say it does.