The movie Zero Dark Thirty is misleading and "grossly inaccurate" in its suggestion that torture produced the tip that led the US military to find terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, three senators said on Wednesday in a letter to the head of Sony Pictures Entertainment.
The filmmakers dispute that interpretation and encourage people to see their movie, already considered a top Oscar contender, before characterising it.
The members of the Senate Intelligence committee - Dianne Feinstein, Carl Levin and John McCain - insisted that Sony and its president and CEO, Michael Lynton, had an obligation to alter the movie and make clear that torture in the hunt for bin Laden was fiction and not based on fact.
"We are fans of many of your movies, and we understand the special role that movies play in our lives, but the fundamental problem is that people who see Zero Dark Thirty will believe that the events it portrays are facts," the three senators wrote. "The film therefore has the potential to shape American public opinion in a disturbing and misleading manner."
McCain has insisted that the waterboarding of al-Qaeda's No.3 leader, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, did not provide information that led to the bin Laden's compound in Pakistan.
Last year, McCain asked then-CIA Director Leon Panetta for the facts, and he said the hunt for bin Laden did not begin with fresh information from Mohammed. In fact, the name of bin Laden's courier, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, came from a detainee held in another country.
Feinstein, who heads the Intelligence committee, backed up McCain's assessment that waterboarding of Mohammed did not produce the tip that led to bin Laden.
In their letter to Sony, the politicians said the "use of torture in the fight against terrorism did severe damage to America's values and standing that cannot be justified or expunged. It remains a stain on our national conscience. We cannot afford to go back to these dark times, and with the release of Zero Dark Thirty, the filmmakers and your production studio are perpetuating the myth that torture is effective. You have a social and moral obligation to get the facts right."
Director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal said in a statement from Sony that they depicted "a variety of controversial practices and intelligence methods that were used in the name of finding bin Laden".
Bigelow and Boal, who won Oscars for The Hurt Locker, said the new film showed that no single method was responsible in the successful manhunt for bin Laden, and no single scene in isolation captures the total effort the movie dramatises.
McCain said he watched the movie on Monday night after receiving a copy.
* Zero Dark Thirty opens in New Zealand cinemas on January 31.