Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV


February 20, 2013

In fact-based films, how much fiction is OK?


Of the three Oscar-nominated films in question, "Zero Dark Thirty" has inspired the most fervent debate. The most intense criticism, despite acclaim for the filmmaking craft involved, has been about its depictions of interrogations, with some, including a group of senators, saying the film misleads viewers for suggesting that torture provided information that helped the CIA find Osama bin Laden.

There also have been questions about the accuracy of the depiction of the main character, a CIA officer played by Jessica Chastain; the real person — or even combination of people, according to some theories — that she plays remains anonymous.

Mark Boal, the movie's screenwriter, said in a recent interview that screenwriters have a double responsibility: to the material and to the audience.

"There's a responsibility, I believe, to the audience, because they're paying money, and to tell a good story," he said. "And there's a responsibility to be respectful of the material."

In a later interview with the Wall Street Journal, he added: "I think it's my right, by the way, if I firmly believe that bin Laden was killed by aliens, to depict that. ... In this country, isn't that legit?"

The debate over "Argo" has been much less intense, though there has been some grumbling from former officials in Britain and New Zealand that their countries were portrayed incorrectly in the film as offering no help at all to the six Americans, whereas actually, as Mendez writes, they did provide some help.

And as for the Canadians, the Toronto Star detailed late last year how Affleck (who also stars as Mendez) agreed to adjust the postscript to his film to more generously credit Canada and its ambassador at the time, Ken Taylor, who protected the Americans at great personal risk.

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