“Even after a relentless, decade-long pursuit that leads to the daring midnight raid of Osama bin Laden’s compound, even as she unzips the body bag to verify that the bloody corpse inside is indeed that of the slain al-Qaida leader, Jessica Chastain‘s Maya, a CIA officer, is defined primarily by her femininity in this male-dominated world.

“It’s probably a phenomenon Kathryn Bigelow unfortunately is acquainted with herself, being the rare woman in Hollywood making muscular action movies — including 2009’s The Hurt Locker, winner of six Academy Awards including best picture and director, the latter being a first for a woman. And so even as Zero Dark Thirty takes an aesthetically stripped-down look at a hugely dramatic event, it shines with the integrity and decency of its central figure: a fierce young woman who’s both dedicated and brainy, demanding and brazen.” — AP critic Christi Lemire.

In other words, Zero Dark Thirty is as personal for Bigelow and as much a piece of self-portraiture as Vertigo was for Alfred Hitchcock.