Forget the brouhaha about Zero Dark Thirty's politics.

Any movie that can present events in which the audience knows the outcome and still have the audience holding its breath in anticipation succeeds. Director Kathryn Bigelow has delivered a tense, well-paced masterpiece.

Back to the brouhaha.

There's been much hand wringing over Zero Dark Thirty's purported approval of torture. I don't see it. The movie's narrative line is straightforward: The story picks up on Sept. 11, 2001, and concludes with the killing Osama bin Laden.

Everything that happens in between—suicide bombings, "enhanced interrogation" (torture), thousands of leads followed—happens in between. In other words, the CIA's use of torture is part of the story, whether we like it or not.

In fact, the torture debate detracts from a different critical narrative; imagine how we'd howl if the movie whitewashed that part of America's recent past. As a piece of drama, Zero Dark Thirty is a marvel.

Jessica Chastain proves she should be cast in every movie. Jason Clarke scores as a CIA operative who burns out on fieldwork; it's almost as if torture breaks him, too. And the raid on bin Laden's compound is one of the best action set pieces ever put on film.

Regal Santa Fe Stadium 14, R, 157 min.