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Remember the night of May 2, 2011, when the news broke of Osama bin Laden's death? A range of responses and emotions flooded Twitter and Facebook. Some scoffed, others celebrated, and few said nothing at all. It was a time of reprieve, yet questions lingered: Would bin Laden's death really put a damper on al-Qaeda and terrorism? Would it truly bring peace and satisfaction to the friends and families who lost loved ones on 9/11 and in the ongoing war on terror? Was it an act of justice or revenge? Was it all really worth it?

Jessica Chastain as Maya

Given such ambiguities and a range of opinions, it should be no surprise that Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow's smart and exciting thriller about the hunt for—and killing of—bin Laden appears to offer no concrete answers to such questions. But if one looks closely enough, the film's realistic, almost journalistic, aesthetic actually does provide some answers. Contrary to numerous arguments that she's impartial as a director, Bigelow (who won an Oscar for 2010's The Hurt Locker) unavoidably reveals some bias by merely portraying the story. Even more, as an artist, she is forced to choose expressions and depictions of the events, from torture scenes to the final bloody raid. Zero Dark Thirty only seems "neutral" because Bigelow, working with a script from Mark Boal, proves conflicted in her stance, caught between a sense of justice and a remorse for the detrimental implications of the operation.

But it's that mixed stance—a conflicted view held by many—that makes the film work so well. While Bigelow and Boal—who did extensive research—claim to stay true to the details, the film is truer in a different ...

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