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Movie Review: Zero Dark Thirty

12/19/2012 10:11 am ET | Updated Feb 18, 2013

You've no doubt heard about a little movie called Zero Dark Thirty, which suddenly is the controversial odds-on Oscar favorite.

The controversy has to do with a couple of scenes of torture -- or "harsh interrogation techniques," as the Orwellian Bush-era new-speak had it. They occur early in the film, involving waterboarding, sleep deprivation, humiliation and the like. It's a highly unpleasant moment -- for the audience, as well as, obviously, the person being abused and questioned.

The nay-sayers posit that, because director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal don't have someone say, "Torture? My God -- what in God's name are you doing?" -- the scenes amount to a tacit approval of the practice, if not an outright endorsement.

Which is, of course, crap.

Zero Dark Thirty shows torture for what it is -- a brutal, barbaric and generally ineffective way to gather intelligence. But the filmmakers allow the viewer to make the moral determination for himself. No doubt, just as any thinking person would be repulsed by those scenes, there are those who will watch it and say, "Kid's stuff -- they should have done more."

All of which misses the point. Zero Dark Thirty isn't a movie about torture. It's a tense, dramatic and lean film, which is a surprising thing to say about a movie with a near-three-hour running time. That's where that Oscar-favorite business (based on a landslide of critical awards) comes from.

This review continues on my website.