Heads Up: Zero Dark Thirty

Revenge is a dish best served in a kick-ass action flick

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The Independent Culture

What are we talking about? An action thriller about the US military's hunt for Osama bin Laden. While the main character, Maya, is fictional, she is based on a real CIA agent, and much of the film draws on factual accounts.

Elevator pitch Bigelow's back, with the next chapter of American military might and (debatable) morality.

Prime movers It's directed by Oscar-winner Kathryn Bigelow, as almost a follow-up to the Iraq-set The Hurt Locker. Again, she's working with a script by Mark Boal, who also won an Academy Award for The Hurt Locker.

The stars Jessica Chastain (The Tree of Life; Lawless) plays Maya. Jason Clarke, who also starred in Lawless, and Jennifer Ehle (Pride and Prejudice) have widely been praised as fellow CIA colleagues, while James Gandolfini plays the boss.

The early buzz Deafening. It's already been nominated for four Golden Globes. The US reviews are in and, while there's been heaps of pre-release controversy – about the presentation of torture as a crucial intelligence-gathering tool, the use of classified information, accusations of it being pro-Obama propaganda, and gender politics – as a film, it's been hailed a triumph. Rolling Stone instructed readers to "Hang on tight. The knock-out punch of the movie season is being delivered." The New York Times described it as "a cool, outwardly nonpartisan intelligence procedural — a detective story of sorts — in which a mass murderer is tracked down by people who spend a lot of time staring into computer screens and occasionally working in the field. It is also a wrenchingly sad, soul-shaking story about revenge and its moral costs, which makes it the most important American fiction movie about Sept. 11."

Insider knowledge "Zero dark thirty" actually means "half past midnight" in military speak.

It's great that … there's a woman director who's not afraid to tackle traditionally "masculine" subjects, but also not afraid to find two strong female voices within that. Go Bigelow!

It's a shame that … although actual reviews so far suggest torture scenes aren't exactly glorified, any open-to-interpretation film will inevitably be interpreted as wildly political, partisan or propagandist. And lots of people are not at all happy about it.

Hit potential Well, controversy rarely harms box-office takings …. Prime Oscar-fodder, too.

The details Zero Dark Thirty is in cinemas from 25 January.