Yes, it’s well done. Fine writing, acting, direction and all that. But if Kathryn Bigelow was going to bring torture into the capture-of-bin-Laden narrative, she should have been more truthful. Because following the narrative of partial facts and dead-end leads is difficult, most viewers, I fear, will come out of the movie assuming torture played a role in nailing Osama. They won’t know from the movie that the heads of the joint Intelligence Committees in Congress say torture had nothing to do with it. Because the actors playing CIA torturers say nothing out loud about whether the methods they are using are smart or dumb, legal or illegal, moral or not — in one scene they are shown watching an interview with the new president in which Obama declares torture must not be used, their expressionless faces revealing nothing — viewers don’t know that CIA torture was fiercely opposed by the FBI, the military and by strong voices inside and outside the Bush administration.
Bigelow says she took no position on torture. It was part of the story of the hunt for bin Laden, so it had to be in the movie.
The C.I.A.’s actions convulsed the national-security community, leading to a crisis of conscience inside the top ranks of the U.S. government. The debate echoed the moral seriousness of the political dilemma once posed by slavery, a subject that is brilliantly evoked in Steven Spielberg’s new film, “Lincoln”; by contrast, the director of “Zero Dark Thirty,” Kathryn Bigelow, milks the U.S. torture program for drama while sidestepping the political and ethical debate that it provoked. In her hands, the hunt for bin Laden is essentially a police procedural, devoid of moral context. If she were making a film about slavery in antebellum America, it seems, the story would focus on whether the cotton crops were successful.