Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta greets former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is loosening up now that his hours at the Pentagon are numbered. (Though the nomination of his replacement, former senator Chuck Hagel, seems gummed up in the Senate for the moment.)

On Thursday, he mentioned that he has some casting quibbles with the movie “Zero Dark Thirty,” which depicts the operation to kill Osama bin Laden.

Actor James Gandolfini portrayed the fictionalized version of Panetta, who was CIA director during the period the movie portrays. And we thought Panetta was okay with that choice — after all, he has said that Gandolfini did a “great job.” But today, he said he would have preferred to see another Italian-American actor in the role: Al Pacino.

Panetta was introducing former secretary of state Hillary Clinton at a Pentagon ceremony in which Clinton was given the Medal for Distinguished Public Service for her work in diplomacy. He said lots of flattering things about Clinton. But he added this aside after talking about the bin Laden operation: “There’s a movie about this,” he said. “The guy who plays me isn’t quite right...I mean, my preference probably would have been Pacino.”

Panetta seems to have “Zero Dark Thirty” on the brain. He mentioned it during a Wednesday press conference, too. Discussing the relationship between Congress and the executive branch, he bemoaned the strained state of affairs. “What I look for are members who are willing to work with us, to try to work our way through some tough issues and be able to find some solutions,” he said. “We need to find solutions. We can’t just sit here and b****.”

Sounds like... well, a tough-talking Pacino character.