“They say don’t judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes — well I haven’t walked nearly a mile in this guy’s shoes,” says Clarke. “Those scenes show us what happens to Dan. It’s not about judging him. It’s about showing what people do because we ask them to do it. It’s very well [to take a stand against torture], but it’s another to be in that position.”
Clarke adds that he knew his character’s humanity would be apparent, despite his inhumane actions, because Bigelow “loves her characters, no matter what they’re doing.”
“Mark and Kathryn have chosen to tell the story from the perspective of the people who were there,” he says. “The material hasn’t gotten out there, and this gets it out in a way that print and radio and news flashes can’t hope to do.”
Boal is adamant that the film neither justifies nor vilifies the actions of the CIA interrogators.
“We certainly didn’t come to it with an agenda, and I think we just wanted to bring the audience to the center and show what it would be like to be on the ground for this kind of operation,” he explains. “I’m wary of the word ‘message,’ but if there was a takeaway from the film, it’s that these people who work behind the scenes deserve some credit and it’s worthwhile to think about them too.”
Boal and Bigelow say they included the torture scenes because softening them or avoiding them altogether would be dishonest. Like the graphic bombing scenes in “The Hurt Locker,” Bigelow says the torture scenes in this film were necessary for the plot.
“It’s not a fascination with war and darkness. It’s more of a fascination with events and the kind of journalistic approach to filmmaking,” she says. “The stories are unfolding, and an imagistic living history is being created. It’s controversial, but it’s also on the record as part of our history, and, again, we wanted to be faithful to the research and personal accounts.”
Bigelow quickly adds that the CIA agents used other tactics for information gathering, including “ground surveillance, track and trace surveillance, and good old-fashioned boots-on-the-ground sleuthing,” all of which were represented in the film.
In fact, a key piece of information was gleaned from tracking the cellphone of one of bin Laden’s close subordinates. When it was pointed out to Boal and Bigelow that the terrorists might have learned a thing or two from watching “The Wire,” the HBO series about Baltimore police who tap the phones of drug dealers in order to catch them, the filmmakers balked.
“It’s true that tracking phones is a tactic known to drug dealers, terrorists, and probably teenagers,” Boal says. “Maybe they don’t get HBO on Al Jazeera.”
Judy Abel can be reached at email@example.com.