Sunday, December 23, 2012

Zero Dark Thirty and No Good Deed

Zero Dark Thirty is the new film by director Kathryn Bigelow and writer/producer Mark Boal. You probably have already seen the trailers or if you live in New York or LA, you may have already watched the film. It won't open nationwide until January 11th.

Ever since I heard about the movie, I've followed the production as closely as I could. I've watched many, many interviews of the actors and the director and have seen several clips--a few that were only available for a day or so before they were pulled, and followed the making of the film from the minute I heard about it. For instance, back in March, the production met some hostility because they used a market in India as a stand in for Pakistan. I also know that the release date was pushed back so that it wouldn't influence the presidential election. Needless to say, while I have not yet been lucky enough to watch the film, I have already formed some opinions about the movie.

One of the reasons I've been so fascinated (other than the fact that Kyle Chandler is  one of the stars!) is that I read that the filmmakers had the cooperation of the CIA to some extent. Since my book, No Good Deed deals with some of the same subject matter as the movie, namely 'enhanced interrogations' and the CIA, I couldn't help being a bit envious of the inside track that Bigelow had. Since I'm not an Oscar-winning director, when I wrote No Good Deed, I had to dig around for information and then use what I had to create the most realistic scenario that I could. The premise of my book is much different than ZD30 in that mine is complete fiction plus there is a paranormal twist. In fact, I used the paranormal twist to help cement the idea that my book could in no way be based on reality.

The main character in No Good Deed, Mark Taylor, is arrested as an enemy combatant directly due to his ability to see the future--specifically 9/11--and his failed attempts to prevent it. I thought of that premise after reading about the arrest of Jose Padilla and his subsequent status an an American enemy combatant. I wondered what would happen if an innocent American was arrested and couldn't prove that he wasn't guilty of anything more than having a psychic ability to see the future. So, I did my research, read memos, read interrogation transcripts, dug up meeting minutes and other info. While my premise had a paranormal twist, I wanted it to be a realistic as possible in regards to Mark's imprisonment. I don't know if the U.S. waterboarded American enemy combatants and as they were held on American soil, not in some CIA black site

Recently, I read articles that the acting CIA Director Michael Morrell has stated that ZD30 is not realistic. He opposes the portrayal of enhanced interrogation and the importance it had in gathering intelligence on Bin Laden's location. Not having seen the movie, I can't say for sure what kind of emphasis was placed on that method of enhanced interrogation in the movie, but from interviews of the actors and director, it seemed that the film tried to let the viewers decide for themselves if the interrogations were integral to eventually finding Bin Laden's compound.

I attempted to do the same thing in my book. While Mark Taylor was innocent, I tried not to make the CIA officer in the book the 'bad' guy--although at first readers might think he is. He is a man doing his job to the best of his ability and for all the right reasons. Did the government sanction waterboarding? Obviously they did as they admit to using the technique on several detainees. Not to mention, I've read the meeting minutes of the discussion. Did it work? I think that will be open to debate for a long time. (For more on my research, you can read this blog post: enemy combatant research)

I think what the movie and I both tried to do was portray the CIA under incredible pressure to get Bin Laden and prevent future terrorist acts. What I've found with my book, and maybe ZD30 will find out in the weeks to come, is that once readers are 'shown' the act, they start re-thinking their ideas.

Here are a few excerpts from reviews that state readers took something away from No Good Deed:

The author also makes you sit back and think about what is going on in the world of our anti-terrorism policies. Prior to reading this book, I had one set of preconceived notions of what is acceptable or not for those labeled as enemy combatants; about a third of the way through I found myself rethinking my own idea of what is the right thing to do. ~Michael Gallagher

One thing that I really liked was how the author handled the political question of whether torture is a viable means of getting answers and information from terrorists. Through different character viewpoints, she showed both sides of the debate. Rather than taking one side or the other, the book allows the reader to really think about the issue and make their own conclusions.~ Lynn O'Dell, Red Adept Reviews

From page one I felt like I was with Mark Taylor going through the interrogation after 9/11. I kept wandering "Is this really totally fiction? Are there innocent people who may have been treated this way?"But as the book moved forward I could see how scared his captors were as well. ~L2Read Karen

I can't wait to see Zero Dark Thirty, and if you are a fan of No Good Deed, you might consider seeing it as well. Hopefully, it will also give viewers something to think about. The Michael Morrell might be upset with the portrayal, but isn't it a good thing that the movie shows enhanced interrogation? If it is kept as some kind of murky, abstract thing that only happens to the bad guys in dark sites, how will people ever decide if it is right or wrong?


  1. I think "No Good Deeds" would make an excellent movie!

  2. Thank you, Cindy. I think so too--but then I'm just a little biased. ;-)