Opening in limited release Wednesday, director Kathryn Bigelow's "Zero Dark Thirty," a dramatized account of the hunt for Osama bin Laden, is already the talk of two towns. In Washington, questions have arisen about whether Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal got access to classified information (the Pentagon says they didn't), and controversy has swirled around the film's depiction of CIA torture.
Back in the land of Hollywood, meanwhile, the film is widely viewed as an award season front-runner, and initial reviews are overwhelmingly positive, praising it as a taut, complex and morally ambiguous thriller.
Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan chalks up much of the film's success to Bigelow and star Jessica Chastain, who plays Maya, the dogged CIA agent whose hunch is vital to tracking down Bin Laden. Bigelow, Turan writes, "proves herself once again to be a master of heightened realism and narrative drive," and Chastain demonstrates that "she is a complete chameleon, able to vanish into a variety of roles so different from one another that the switch of persona can be disconcerting."
Boal, a former journalist, has crafted a script that is "as modern as it gets," Turan says, throwing the viewers "right into the middle of a complicated situation" and forcing them to make sense of it. The end result "is an example of cinematic storytelling at its most effective."