American actress Jessica Chastain redeems her loopy performance in The Tree Of Life with her role in Zero Dark Thirty. The film tells the story of how the CIA ultimately captured and killed its arch enemy Osama Bin Laden after 10 years of pursuing him. Chastain plays an intelligence agent named simply Maya, who is probably a composite of a real-life person involved in the hunt, but we’re never quite sure.

Director Kathryn Bigelow, who previously won an Oscar for the military film The Hurt Locker reveals that the film’s title derives from the military term for 30 minutes after midnight, the hour at which Bin Laden was killed, and the darkness and secrecy that cloaked the entire decade-long mission.

The film has been nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actress for Chastain and Best Original Screenplay for Mark Boal, who also collaborated with Bigelow on The Hurt Locker.

It’s hard to build suspense in a story whose outcome is already well known, but over the course of its two-and-a-half hour running time, Zero Dark Thirty manages to do just that.

Chastain is handed that rarest of roles: a tough and competent, non-stereotyped woman — thoroughly professional — who knows her job and brooks no nonsense from her male counterparts.

However, she also relies on her intuition, which flies in the face of CIA common wisdom and ultimately proves correct.

She counters the widely-held belief that bin Laden is holed up in a remote cave somewhere in the back hills of Afghanistan with the theory that he’s in a walled compound in the middle of a Pakistan town, a stone’s throw from a military college.

Maya’s further suspicion, that the Pakistani government has some knowledge of his whereabouts, is reinforced by the American decision not to warn them of the impending raid, even though they are nominal allies.

For a large part of the film, we’re witness to the intramural struggles within the CIA hierarchy, with the cave-dwelling faction arrayed against Maya’s incredible belief that their quarry is hiding from them in plain sight.

In between, we are regaled with graphic portrayals of the infamous waterboarding routine, euphemistically labeled as “extended interrogation techniques.”

Zero Dark Thirty proved controversial on a number of fronts, among them a public assertion among some critics that it glorified torture as a means of securing key intelligence that broke the case open.

American Republican Party sources also criticized the initial timing for the film’s debut. Originally scheduled to be released in October 2012, Barack Obama’s political opponents claimed the timing would give the incumbent President an unfair advantage in his re-election bid.

Ultimately, Zero Dark Thirty was released in December, with the producers claiming that the decision had nothing to do with political considerations.

Controversy aside, it’s a powerful and engrossing film that chronicles recent history in a realistic, gritty and non-sensationalistic manner. It richly deserves its Oscar nominations.

Zero Dark Thirty plays at 7:15 p.m. for one nightly showing only at the Qwanlin Cinema Centre in Whitehorse. It is rated 14A for violence.