‘Zero Dark Thirty’ investigation closed — mission accomplished?

February 26, 2013

On Monday, just hours after “Zero Dark Thirty” missed winning best picture and a clutch of other awards at the Oscars, the Senate Intelligence Committee closed its investigation into contacts between the filmmakers and the CIA, Reuters reported.


(Columbia Pictures/AP)

That quiet punctuation mark ended a noisy past few months, during which committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, along with Senate colleagues John McCain and Carl Levin, loudly criticized the film, which dramatizes the 10-year hunt for and assassination of Osama bin Laden. In December, the three senators called “Zero Dark Thirty” “grossly misleading and inaccurate,” accused screenwriter Mark Boal and director Kathryn Bigelow of suggesting that torture led directly to Bin Laden and called on Sony Pictures Entertainment to add a disclaimer to the film emphasizing that torture played no role in the hunt.

The senators’ critique was one of several shots across the bow of a film that became embroiled in an unusually politicized awards season, during which several filmmakers made stops in Washington, politicians dinged movies on accuracy issues and Bill Clinton appeared at the Golden Globes. The Washington-Hollywood nexus reached its apex Sunday night, when first lady Michelle Obama was beamed from the White House announcing best picture winner “Argo” at the Oscars ceremony. (“Zero Dark Thirty” was nominated for five Oscars, including best picture, and won one, for sound editing.)

The Senate intelligence committee began its investigation of the CIA and its contacts with the “Zero Dark Thirty” filmmakers in January December, when it sought documents pertaining to the events depicted in the film. (Boal relied on first-hand accounts from intelligence and military personnel in crafting his script.) As of this writing, it’s not clear what documents the committee members obtained, or why they chose to end the investigation now.

Update 9:08 p.m.: In a statement released Tuesday night, Sen. Feinstein said that, after receiving the CIA’s response to her initial inquiry about the agency’s interaction with the filmmakers, “I see no need to request further information.” She added that, in a separate letter, “Senators Levin, McCain and I requested the basis for CIA’s view that enhanced interrogation techniques provided some intelligence that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden. The CIA’s response to that letter is forthcoming.”

Although the Reuters report surfaced a day after the Oscars ceremony – suggesting that the political investigation was tied somehow to “Zero Dark Thirty’s” fortunes with the Academy – the Senate committee’s investigation had actually ended weeks earlier, when Sen. Feinstein received documents from the CIA satisfying the intelligence committee’s request.

Ann Hornaday is The Post's movie critic.
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Chris Richards · February 26, 2013