While it is questionable whether the torture depicted in Zero Dark Thirty leads to any progress in the real search for Osama bin Laden, the fact is this dramatization would have gone nowhere without it. The aforementioned manhunt lasted 8 years, and the film feels almost that long.
Despite its various bombing sequences, which although spectacularly staged typically occur too suddenly to establish tension, going to some place to talk to some guy who might know some place where some other guy is doesn’t entirely make for compelling drama. It’s in the hunt’s latter years – when there is actual intelligence – where the film bursts forth into action.
The final sequence of Zero Dark Thirty, in particular, while clearly predictable, is a tense and immaculately executed work of military drama without any chest-thumping or triumphalism, just a sigh and reflection on the long, dirty, dubious road taken to reach this end.