11/25/2012 11:31 pm ET

'Zero Dark Thirty' Reviews: Kathryn Bigelow's Osama Bin Laden Movie Praised By Critics

Geronimo. After months of anticipation, Kathryn Bigelow's "Zero Dark Thirty," a procedural about the hunt for and killing of Osama Bin Laden, screened for critics and Oscar watchers in New York and Los Angeles on Sunday night. The early words? Strong, thoughtful, cynical, academic and intense.

"It's a crowded Oscar season for great films. But it's a good thing everyone had 'Zero Dark Thirty's' place in line because it is easily one of the year’s most memorable [features]," Oscar blogger Sasha Stone noted. Stone praised star Jessica Chastain for her work in "Zero Dark Thirty"; the 2011 It-Girl and Oscar nominee stars as Maya, a CIA operative who becomes obsessed with finding bin Laden following the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Chastain is on the short list of possible Best Actress nominees, alongside Jennifer Lawrence ("Silver Linings Playbook"), Helen Mirren ("Hitchcock"), Keira Knightley ("Anna Karenina"), Emmanuelle Riva ("Amour"), Marion Cotillard ("Rust and Bone") and Naomi Watts ("The Impossible").

"[Chastain] is essentially asked here to carry a movie for the first time, and she rises to the occasion," wrote THR Oscar watcher Scott Feinberg. Both Feinberg and HitFix's In Contention blogger Kris Tapley seemed a bit muted on the film's overall Oscar chances, since the 160-minute film is very dense and talky and contains scenes of extreme torture. On the flip side, GoldDerby.com editor Tom O'Neill wrote that "Zero Dark Thirty" could score nominations in the Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay (Mark Boal, who won for "The Hurt Locker") and Best Editing categories, as well as Chastain for Best Actress.

As for how the film succeeds beyond the scope of the Academy Awards, early critical notices have been strong. TIME Magazine's Richard Corliss thought "Zero Dark Thirty" blew the similarly intense "Argo" "out of the water," while THR critic Todd McCarthy wrote that "it could well be the most impressive film Bigelow has made."

"Zero Dark Thirty" opens in limited release on Dec. 19. The film arrives nationwide on Jan. 11, 2013.

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