"Zero Dark Thirty" has been slammed by several senators for its depiction of torture, but the issue only appears to have helped it at the box office.
Director Kathryn Bigelow's dramatization of the hunt for Osama Bin Laden racked up an estimated $124,848 in five theaters in New York City and Los Angeles on Wednesday. That's an average of $24,969, making it one of the biggest limited mid-week openings in history.
Other Oscar-bait films in limited release scored far less in their debuts. "American Beauty" grossed $73,000 in 6 theaters and "Little Miss Sunshine" grossed $66,000 in 7 showings on their opening days.
The film arrives in theaters boasting four Golden Globe nods, including a nomination for Best Motion Picture – Drama, and a boatload of strong reviews.
In Slate, Dana Stevens praised the film for its unflinching depiction of the global manhunt.
"Zero Dark Thirty, as single-minded and emotionally remote as its heroine, plays its cards so close to its vest that it’s impossible to tell," Stevens wrote. "But this is a vital, disturbing, and necessary film precisely because it wades straight into the swamp of our national trauma about the war on terror and our prosecution of it, and no one — either on the screen or seated in front of it — comes out clean."
Not everyone has loved "Zero Dark Thirty"s' moral ambiguity, however. Senators John McCain, Dianne Feinstein and Carl Levin have criticized the film for seeming to argue that torture helped the CIA locate bin Laden.
In a letter to Sony Pictures chairman and CEO Michael Lynton, the senators said that the studio should state that the film is a work of fiction and its depiction of torture's role in the operation to find bin Laden is fictitious.
In a statement provided to TheWrap, Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal said critics were taking the torture scene out context.
"This was a 10-year intelligence operation brought to the screen in a two-and-a-half-hour film. We depicted a variety of controversial practices and intelligence methods that were used in the name of finding bin Laden," the statement reads. "The film shows that no single method was necessarily responsible for solving the manhunt, nor can any single scene taken in isolation fairly capture the totality of efforts the film dramatizes."
"Zero Dark Thirty" stars Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton and Chris Pine. It opens in wide release on Jan. 11.