Manohla Dargis, reviewing the forthcoming film Zero Dark Thirty in the New York Times:
The abuse scenes are crucial to “Zero Dark Thirty” because they serve as a claim — one made cinematically rather than with speeches — that these interrogation methods are unreliable when it comes to producing actionable information. The second session ends with the screaming, babbling, weeping Ammar insisting that he doesn’t know about a coming attack as he is sealed in the box. The final moment is shot from his point of view, and what follows is a scene of a terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia. This juxtaposition of the abuse and the massacre suggests, in cinematic terms, that torture does not save lives. It is only later, when Dan and Maya lie to Ammar, sit across from him at a table, talk to him like a human being and give him food and a cigarette, that he offers them a potential lead.
Kyle Smith, reviewing the same movie in the New York Post:
The turning point of “ZD30” comes when a terrorist whose name once appeared on a wire transfer to one of the 9/11 attackers reveals to Maya and fellow spook Dan (Clarke) some of the other terrorists he has worked with. He gives up this information freely, over a casual lunch. So, harsh interrogation is unnecessary, right?
Wrong. In the opening scene of the film, the same prisoner is shown undergoing treatment the left keeps erroneously calling “torture.” The prisoner is sexually humiliated. He is kept awake for long periods of time (up to 96 hours) and strung in manacles. He is stuffed in a small box, he is led around on a dog leash and he is waterboarded.
Only after all of this has happened do we get to the lunch scene. When asked who he worked with, the al Qaeda financier answers, “Some guys.” Dan says that isn’t good enough and threatens to take him back to the interrogation room for more harsh treatment. Only now does the terrorist crack: He gives up three names, one of which, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, is new to Maya. Further, the terrorist reveals that Abu Ahmed was carrying a message from bin Laden. . . .
The soft treatment only works because of the nasty stuff. The guy eating lunch wants to stay at the table, badly, and knows what the alternative is.