Michael Morell says film 'takes significant artistic license'

The acting director of the CIA is the latest D.C. figure to jump into the “Zero Dark Thirty” dispute, weighing in on the torture scenes in the film and pointing out to staffers that films are not always factual.

“I would not normally comment on a Hollywood film, but I think it important to put ‘Zero Dark Thirty,’ which deals with one of the most significant achievements in our history, into some context,” said Michael Morell in a statement to agency employees that was posted Friday on the CIA’s website.

Morell labeled the movie “a dramatization, not a realistic portrayal of the facts.” He also said the film “takes significant artistic license, while portraying itself as being historically accurate.”

“Zero Dark Thirty” opened Wednesday in limited release.

“CIA interacted with the filmmakers through our Office of Public Affairs but, as is true with any entertainment project with which we interact, we do not control the final product,” Morell said.

He also said the movie “takes considerable liberties in its depiction of CIA personnel and their actions, including some who died while serving our country. We cannot allow a Hollywood film to cloud our memory of them. Commentators will have much to say about this film in the weeks ahead. Through it all, I want you to remember that ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ is not a documentary.”

The unusual letter was disclosed two days after Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.) criticized the depiction of torture in “Zero Dark Thirty” with a letter to Sony Pictures chairman Michael Lynton, calling the movie “grossly inaccurate and misleading.”

The film, which chronicles the decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden, has long been a partisan political hot potato. The filmmakers have stressed that “Zero Dark Thirty” is nonpolitical, with President Obama appearing only in a brief news clip, but Republicans have asserted that the Obama administration took unusual steps to help director Kathryn Bigelow andscreenwriter Mark Boal.

Sony, which is distributing the film, has not commented on the letter from the senators.

Bigelow and Boal said last week that the movie depicted a variety of controversial practices and intelligence methods that were used in the name of finding bin Laden and that no single method was necessarily responsible for the successful conclusion of the manhunt.

“One thing is clear: The single greatest factor in finding the world’s most dangerous man was the hard work and dedication of the intelligence professionals who spent years working on this global effort,” the filmmakers said. “We encourage people to see the film before characterizing it.”

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