At the 2013 Bafta film awards, the host Stephen Fry regretted that he hadn’t seen the first 29 episodes of what he called “the Zero Dark franchise”. A good joke about an excellent film (whose title, according to some, is spy talk for half-past midnight, but to others just an unspecified time in the early hours) that tells how America’s Navy SEALs found and killed Osama Bin Laden. It holds the attention throughout, thanks largely to the splendid Jessica Chastain. She plays Maya, a fictional CIA agent based on a real one whose identity can’t be revealed for obvious reasons, and whose only task with the agency is to find Bin Laden. This she does, often despite her fellow agents who disagree with her theories. As we follow Maya’s progress through anxiety, self-doubt and physical danger – a bomb in a hotel, a car shot up by terrorists – Kathryn Bigelow’s film develops into a tense, absorbing thriller. Of course, there’s no surprise ending – we all know what happened, but it’s how it happened that matters here.
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