‘Zero Dark Thirty’ Controversy Continues, Now Martin Sheen Is Involved

People sure can’t stop talking about the torture scenes in Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow’s excellent depiction of the hunt for Osama bin Laden. After all, we have a nation of bloggers to employ, and they need things to argue about! Likewise, Academy members like Ed Asner (Ed Asner! OK, sure) have formed a protest condemning the film for its alleged pro-torture stance and suggesting that the film should not be honored with any Oscars at the end of February. (Would you do that to poor Jessica Chastain, Mr. Asner? Shame on you.) Martin Sheen, who has always been an outspoken political actor, has found himself in the middle of the whole mess, but he’d like you to know he didn’t hate Zero Dark Thirty.

It was all a goof, Sheen claimes.

…speaking by telephone Wednesday, Mr. Sheen said that through his own mistake, the actors David Clennon and Ed Asner had included Mr. Sheen in their opposition to what they saw as the film’s tolerance of torture. “It’s my own fault,” said Mr. Sheen, who explained that he had agreed to a statement about the film without fully understanding that it would condemn the movie, rather than simply condemning torture.

Speaking separately, Mr. Sheen said he shared Ms. Bigelow’s expressed opposition to the use of torture, and said that the film had “done great, great service to the issue” by bringing it to the fore. Mr. Sheen said he had watched the movie weeks ago and “was very moved and troubled by it.” The misunderstanding with Mr. Clennon, he added, occurred only because Mr. Sheen had failed to speak with him personally about the Zero Dark Thirty controversy, relying instead on communication through an assistant.

Well, good, glad that’s settled! Now, Martin Sheen knows he’s not the president, right? Just checking!

Political Movie Not About Politics

Now that I’ve seen the capitalist critiques and murderous slo-mo ballets of Killing Them Softly, last on the cinematic agenda between now and Django Unchained would be Zero Dark Thirty, which chronicles the global manhunt for Osama bin Laden in what we all hope to be chilling detail. But don’t let that description confuse you: allegedly, the script has no agenda at all!

Okay, I see where director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal are coming from when they say things like: “This is a pretty naturally dramatic and exciting story. You don’t really have to put too much topspin on the ball.” Because there’s nothing worse than an on-screen sermon. It’s funny, though, that a movie about enhanced interrogation and state-sanctioned assassinations finds the political climate at large something toxic enough to distance itself from.

I get it, really. You’re trying to present the facts of history as objectively and entertainingly as possible. It’s not intended as a polemic—and neither was Bigelow and Boal’s Hurt Locker—yet to say neither has a political vantage point, a moral compass, some guiding humanistic principles, is to ignore their subtle and remarkable effect on the final product. As Aaron Sorkin will never understand, this type of commentary can remain unspoken.

So come on, you two—quit playing coy. You make political movies. DEAL WITH IT. No one’s forcing you to attend $1000-a-plate party fundraisers. Or worse, start collecting bumper stickers.

Follow Miles Klee on Twitter.