Zero Dark Thirty is a great real-life thriller. It reminded me of Jarhead and Black Hawk Down, without the pathos of the first movie or the post 9-11 fervor of the second.
I remember hearing a kerfuffle when the movie came out that it sanctioned torture. What struck me most about the movie was the decided lack of editorial position. There's nothing glamorous about the way torture is depicted. The lead character is obviously repulsed when she encounters it, though she sees it as a means to an end. She seems to feel this torture is wrong, but see it as necessary in an ends-justify-the-means mentality. This is, for better or for worse, exactly the debate we as a nation seem to be having. Obvious as it might seem to most of us that this is unjustified, there's a significant number of warhawks and security freaks that don't care. There's Muslims that need to be killed without trials, after all. This is who we are as a nation now.
The more coherent view of the movie is that it is a mirror. Here we are. It's telling us what we did. We spent more than 10 years, billions of dollars, and much of the resources of the most prosperous nation on earth, all so that we could kill one man. Whether the movie viewer thinks that the movie portrays a justification for this says a lot more about the viewer than it does about the movie. I came away with a sad feeling. All that work, for what? We still haven't defeated the latest noun we've declared war on, and just as the wars on Poverty and Drugs before it, it seems unlikely that we'll win this one either. Totalitarian tactics with unclear goals are never going to work.
This is a great movie. It's emotionally arresting, fascinating, and very worthy of analysis.