By Hillary Busis
Updated February 04, 2013 at 02:00 PM EST

Zero Dark Thirty

  • Movie

Name: Zero Dark Thirty

Release date: Limited release: Dec. 19; wide release: Jan. 11

DVD release date: N/A

Run time: 2 hours, 37 minutes

Box office: First weekend (wide): $24.4 million; total domestic (so far): $71.8 million

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93 percent

Movie Math: Real life + (Homeland x The Hurt Locker) + (National Geographic’s Seal Team Six – basic cable production values)

Tweetable description: Brilliant, determined CIA agent spends years obsessively hunting down terrorist mastermind; is not named Carrie Mathison.

What EW’s Owen Gleiberman said: “Once in a long while, a fresh-from-the-headlines movie — like All the President’s Men or United 93 — fuses journalism, procedural high drama, and the oxygenated atmosphere of a thriller into a new version of history written with lightning. Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow’s meticulous and electrifying re-creation of the hunt for Osama bin Laden, is that kind of movie…A.”

What EW’s Lisa Schwarzbaum said: “This outstanding second collaboration, following The Hurt Locker, between journalist-screenwriter Mark Boal and director Kathryn Bigelow is built powerfully enough to absorb all outpourings of emotion. There’s not a moment wasted, and not a scene without a purpose. Chastain’s Maya is determined, driven, anguished, and ardent; so too is Zero Dark Thirty. That’s its power, and that’s why it’s the best and most important movie of the year.”

Number of Oscar nods: 5: Best Picture, Best Actress (Jessica Chastain), Best Original Screenplay (Mark Boal), Best Editing (William Goldenberg and Dylan Tichenor), and Best Sound Editing (Paul N.J. Ottosson).

Movie’s Oscar history: Director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal won a pair of statuettes for their first collaboration, The Hurt Locker, in 2010. Star Jessica Chastain was up for Best Supporting Actress at last year’s awards, but lost to The Help costar Octavia Spencer. Though supporting actor Kyle Chandler isn’t up for any Oscars, he also played a government employee in another film that’s getting plenty of Academy love this season: Argo. And he’s not the only person involved with Zero Dark who also has an Argo connection — editor William Goldenberg is nominated for his work on both Bigelow’s film and Ben Affleck’s film, and busy composer Alexandre Desplat wrote the scores for both Zero Dark and Argo. (He got a nod this year for his work on the latter.)

What it has won thus far: Several Best Picture awards from organizations including the AFI, the National Board of Review, the Broadcast Film Critics Association and the New York Film Critics Circle. But Zero Dark Thirty has lost much of its early awards momentum — Chastain’s Best Actress statuettes from the Golden Globes and the Critics Choice Awards are the only major prizes the film has garnered since December.

Why it should win: Tense, gritty, and utterly gripping, Zero Dark Thirty mines incredible suspense out of a story with an ending everyone already knows. Its real-time depiction of the raid on bin Laden’s Abbottabad complex is an impressively sustained setpiece that dramatizes an historic moment without sensationalizing it. And in a year dominated by lengthy, bloated films — this year’s Best Picture nominees are the longest on average since 2005, when 170-minute The Aviator was up for the award — Kathryn Bigelow’s movie feels like it earns every one of its 157 minutes.

Why it shouldn’t win: Well, there’s that ongoing controversy about whether Zero Dark Thirty promotes the use of torture and/or implies that bin Laden was only found because of intelligence gathered through the use of torture. Whether you see the pro-torture message or not, the offscreen drama taints Bigelow and Boal’s achievement. Zero Dark Thirty‘s characters are also pretty flat, especially compared to those of its competitors; the film purposefully doesn’t focus on anything but the job Maya and co. are doing, which hinders our ability to care about them.

Vegas Odds: 50/1, according to Las Vegas Sports Betting.

Best Line: Zero Dark‘s dialogue is sort of beside the point, but the refrain interrogator Dan (Jason Clarke) repeats while torturing a captive is appropriately chilling and memorable: “When you lie to me, I hurt you.”

Worst Line: Maya, moonlighting as Captain Obvious: “I’m going to smoke everyone involved in this op, and then I’m going to kill Osama bin Laden.” The way she introduces herself to the director of the CIA is a close second: “I’m the motherf—er that found this place. Sir.”

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Zero Dark Thirty

  • Movie
  • 156 minutes
  • Kathryn Bigelow