Kathryn Bigelow's astounding new film opens with the horrific sounds of 9/11 played over a black screen and it ends with the death of Osama bin Laden; its subject is the journey from point A to point B.
Reuniting with The Hurt Locker screenwriter Mark Boal, Bigelow has crafted a riveting, entirely convincing procedural that shows us the long, frustrating pursuit of bin Laden through the eyes of Jessica Chastain's dogged CIA agent.
Boal's journalistic construction of this decade-long hunt is episodic, but Bigelow's command of the material (and the vital contribution of cinematographer Greig Fraser and composer Alexandre Desplat) ensures that every scene is gripping, immediate and respectful of the audience's intelligence.
Some commentators have accused the film of glorifying torture, but that is a glib and reductive analysis. Zero Dark Thirty is always aware of the moral and political complexities of war, but what makes it a great work of cinema is its awareness of the human cost above all.