When I evaluate the moves of politicians, I ordinarily leave as much room for nuance as a Japanese capsule hotel does for overnight visitors.

I may be softening in my dotage. The actions of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., leave me divided.

Over the weekend, I saw Kathryn Bigelow's "Zero Dark Thirty,'' a well-made movie that depicts the pursuit and killing of Osama bin Laden.

Feinstein is one of three senators on the Senate Intelligence Committee (the other two are Carl Levin, D-Mich., and John McCain, R-Ariz.) who have voiced discomfort with the treatment of torture in Bigelow's movie.

In a letter to Michael Lynton, the chief executive of Sony Pictures, they asked that the studio change the impression that torture was an effective tool in the search for bin Laden -- without saying specifically what changes they wanted.

More seriously, the senators demanded that the CIA turn over information and documents about any contacts the agency had with the filmmakers. As a result, the screenwriter for "Zero Dark Thirty,'' Mark Boal, has hired a free-speech attorney.

So why am I divided? I don't believe Feinstein is wrong in her analysis. After an opening of audio from phone calls of 9/11 victims, "Zero Dark Thirty'' implicitly endorses the torture of a CIA detainee.

A bad solution


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The senator does err in her solution. It's not hard to leap from a demand for information to actual committee hearings. And if the Senate Intelligence Committee threatens to put filmmakers under oath, we have big problems with freedom of speech.

Don't get me wrong: I don't buy the political slant of the movie. I'm not convinced that torture contributed clues that were unavailable by other means. While Bigelow includes nuances, the film's emotional force lingers with a tough-minded analyst (Jessica Chastain) who watches the torture.

Here's my problem: The question of whether the movie correctly portrayed torture as a tool in finding bin Laden is not the business of Feinstein or any other senator.

In the end, "Zero Dark Thirty,'' is a movie -- a well-made movie that tracks the actual raid with great emotional power. As in the Oliver Stone movies "JFK'' or "W,'' not everything really happened. In the end, a movie's first loyalty is to compelling drama.

Dramatic loyalty

(In one scene, the Jessica Chastain character tells James Gandolfini, who plays CIA director Leon Panetta, that she is the unprintable four-syllable profanity who found the hideout. I'm willing to bet that introduction never happened.)

You can argue that this is all saber-rattling -- that Feinstein really wants to underscore that torture is bad. But when you have creative people hiring lawyers, it's gone too far.

FYI: In an unrelated matter, ex-San Jose Mayor Tom McEnery has come up with a good idea after the death last week of George Gund III, the first owner of the San Jose Sharks. McEnery suggests naming the main entry of the HP Pavilion the "GG3 Gateway." The City Council and mayor ought to quickly accept it. Gund was a good man who made a better facility possible.

Contact Scott Herhold at 408-275-0917 or sherhold@mercurynews.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/scottherhold.