Due to step down as U.S. Defense Secretary this month, Panetta called “Zero Dark Thirty” a “good film,” but recognized it as a fiction, albeit one capturing a more accurate vision than most. "I think people ought to make their own judgments,” he said. “There are parts of it that give you a good sense of how the intelligence operations do work. But I also think people in the end have to understand that it isn't a documentary, it's a movie."
As Jessica Chastain's CIA character finds out in the opening reels of the film, torture methods were used on detainees to gain information on Osama bin Laden's whereabouts. This depiction has garnered an onslaught of criticism from politicians, rights advocates, and the acting CIA head, Michael Morell, but Panetta believes the methods were helpful, yet not entirely pivotal to the case's direction.
“[There's] no question that some of the intelligence gathered was a result of some of these methods," he explained. "But I think it's difficult to say that they were the critical element. I think they were part of the vast puzzle that you had to put together in order to ultimately locate where bin Laden was." Asked then if bin Laden would've been found without the interrogation methods, he replied, "I think we would have found him, even without that piece of the puzzle."
So another voice had added to the melee, but with Panetta's background and integral role in the real-life events, a much more insightful one. But what did he think of Gandolfini's performance in the film?
He remained mute on that point, but offered instead, "Somebody came up to me and said I saw you in that movie but you lost a lot of weight." [Herald Sun]