'Zero Dark Thirty' Poised For Oscar After Earning Critical Raves

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"Zero Dark Thirty" has become one of the most anticipated and controversial films of the year. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow and written by Mark Boal, the Oscar-winning team behind "The Hurt Locker," the political thriller illustrates the 10-year hunt for Osama bin Laden. 

Over the last few days, reviews of the film have been trickling in and the response from critics has been overwhelmingly positive. Many have praised the film for managing to present a story without a political slant while others have likened the film to a gripping journalistic piece. 

Rodrigo Perez of Indiewire noted that while the film is difficult to watch, it's also riveting. 

"While grueling in its presentation of the connect-the-dots facts," Perez said, "'Zero Dark Thirty' is still more a transfixing drama, flecked with powerhouse, engaging action beats, than it is a slog." 

"It’s dense, crushingly systematic and disciplined with a payoff that everyone already knows about," he continues. "But its commitment to its vision is gripping and engrossing (though some might reductively describe it as Nancy Drew on the hunt for the Boogey Man in the Middle East if they felt like being trite)."

TIME's Richard Corliss describes "Zero Dark Thirty" as being better than the widely acclaimed "Argo" and compares the film to "In Cold Blood" and "The Right Stuff." 

"First and last, 'Zero Dark Thirty' is a movie, and a damned fine one. Like 'Argo' — which, with all due respect to director Ben Affleck and the film’s many admirers, ZDT blows out of the water — it dramatizes a true-life international adventure with CIA agents as the heroes. (And it takes fewer fictional liberties with the source material than Affleck did.)" said Corliss. "In the tradition of Truman Capote’s 'In Cold Blood' and Tom Wolfe’s 'The Right Stuff,' Boal tracked down the particulars of a sensational exploit and, skipping the 'non-fiction novel' stage, created an original screenplay that provides a streamlined timeline of the hunt for bin Laden." 

Variety's Peter Debrudge praised the film's aesthetic qualities.

"With its handheld camerawork, naturalistic lighting and dialogue-drowning sound design (especially heavy on ambient helicopters), the film reflects the latest fashion in cinematic realism, compromised only slightly by the bare-minimum mood setting from Alexandre Desplat's Middle East-inflected score," Debrudge said.

He also applauded the film's star, Jessica Chastain, who plays a CIA agent named Maya who is stubbornly dedicated to finding the world's most wanted man. 

"Chastain's presence reminds us we're watching a movie, and yet, this slight degree of self-consciousness serves to reinforce the point that it's a woman pushing the process forward."

Todd McCarthy of the Hollywood Reporter also praises Chastain and the rest of the cast, which includes Chris Pratt and James Gandolfini. 

"Chastain carries the film in a way she's never been asked to do before. Denied the opportunity to provide psychological and emotional details for Maya, she nonetheless creates a character that proves indelible and deeply felt. The entire cast works in a realistic vein to fine effect."

The favorable responses will no doubt aid the film's Oscar campaign and cement its status as a Best Picture front-runner. It could also mean that Bigelow and Boal are tapped to take home Best Director and Best Screenplay -- as they did in 2010. 

"Zero Dark Thirty" is set to be released in limited theaters on Dec. 19 and slated for a wide release on Jan. 11. 

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