Zero Dark Thirty is a ripping good yarn. And that's the problem with it.
A word about the torture sequences that begin the saga: I've noticed a somewhat lively debate over whether or not the film "condones" torture, and I find it a silly argument in this case. This film does not present torture to exploit the fantasies of reptilian machismo in the repetitive and adolescent way of Fox's mostly Bush-era 24 (and as, frankly, most cinematic and televised drama cartoons it.) It simply presents it to the viewer.
I would say that critics on both sides of this "debate" are merely projecting their own feelings on the matter. Reality, once again, as Rorschach inkblot. I was repelled by what I saw, and I felt as much sympathy for the haplessness and moral ambiguity of the torturers as I did for their victim. But I see no reason to indict the filmmakers for reaching for the steady gaze of realism (perhaps they did not adequately present the extent of such brutality, but I ask: Is that even possible? In a film? I think we sometimes ask too much of the silver screen.)
As I said, a ripping good yarn. Fantastic story arc. Protagonist angst and doubt, failure, triumph, a wonderfully silent reflection at the end that lets the viewer decide just what made those tears fall. Not to mention the mastery of suspense in a movie where the viewer already knows the outcome.
Or did I know the outcome? And does this fictional representation of history really reveal that outcome?
Look, the body of Bin Laden is famously alleged to have been dumped into the - sorry, "buried at" - sea. Allegedly Bin Laden, allegedly dumped. Perhaps the dramatic narrative would have been adversely interrupted by expositing on this "factoid" - I am no director - but this is inarguably some serious history here. In any case, the film leaves me no satisfaction on an undoubtedly Executive action that was unnecessarily confusing to the public... or at least, to me.
This omission calls into question the factuality of the rest of the narrative, as realistic as it, truthfully told, come across.
I wear my tinfoil-hat with pride, but it's an ambiguous pride. Conspiracy "theories" are flimsy boats in treacherous waters, captained by exploitive (Alex Jones) and gregarious (Jesse Ventura) characters, and efforts to find True North are actively thwarted by the impish shenanigans of intelligence leadership (often mutinously abetted by their own captains - I'm looking at you, Jones.) But these theories persist because there is indeed so much that is hidden from us - in the name of national security, CYA, or for simple fucking whimsy as far as I know or can tell. And so I try to be "reasonable" and avoid full-naked-Truther body slams into the froth, but there are questions to which answers are actively refused.
There are those who think that the film (and the book on which it is based) are vetted creations of the CIA. This is a reasonable suspicion. There is, after all, a Senate panel investigating this. And where goeth the CIA, the truth does not easily go.
I enjoy a good yarn as much as the next guy, but thumbs down on this story on its display of glib ignorance of its historical import.
That said - I give it "4" out of the customary 5 stars.