Movies' depictions of the U.S.'s relationship to the Islamic world have always been shaped by the political climate of their times. For example: the '80s.
As the furor over Zero Dark Thirty and its adherence to facts—or failure to adhere to facts—rages on, it's worth remembering that this isn't the first time films have tried to depict the volatile politics of Afghanistan and the surrounding region, and that such attempts are always informed, and their reception shaped, by politics of the era in which they were created. It's as true now for Zero Dark Thirty as it was for a series of films in the 1980s that made none of the claims of journalistic rigor that director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal have made.
I saw Zero Dark Thirty in early December, before Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald—without seeing the film—condemned it as work glorifying torture. I didn't think the charge would stick. The film's attitude toward torture remains complicated and unresolved. Bigelow shows in explicit detail the methods used to extract information with an emphasis on the way they dehumanize everyone involved. Jessica Chastain's Maya begins the film looking on in revulsion as she witnesses the brutal interrogation of a prisoner. Later we see her scanning screen after screen of bound, quivering bodies, her eyes deadened by her inability to experience shock anymore. An outright indictment it's not: When, later, torture stops being a readily available option, it's seen by all involved as a hindrance toward gathering information. But it's an open question whether that's the rationale of people who've let the ends justify the means because thinking any other way would make it impossible to live with their choices remains. And that question might look quite different to viewers in the coming decades than it does now, when the controversy has faded into the background and the film itself still remains.