Once the raid is a go, it is the Navy SEALS' turn to implement final stage of Maya's odyssey. The take-down is deliberately paced, lacking the chaos and noise films less confident in their narrative may have played up. Viscerally, the stillness between each moment of action is surprising. Chronologically, the details of the raid, following a hybrid of the administration's and raid veteran Mark Owen's accounts, are not.
Hindsight is 20/20. Like some of the other Oscar-buzzy films of the season Lincoln and Argo, viewers start out knowing exactly how the film will end. Yet Bigelow comes as close as she can to obscuring the light at the end of the tunnel, of recreating the doubt and disappointment—some of it fatal—that paved the road to that compound in Abbottabad.
Zero Dark Thirty premieres in New York and Los Angeles Friday, Dec. 19 and nationwide Friday, Jan. 11.
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Tierney Sneed is associate editor of U.S. News Opinion. You can follow her on Twitter or reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.