If you were thinking that two years is a bit soon to be making a film about the assassination of Osama Bin Laden, I have news for you: the film has actually been in production since 2009, two years before Bin Laden was killed.

Mark Boal won many accolades for the accuracy he brought to the screenplay of The Hurt Locker, and after he and director Kathryn Bigelow scored big wins at the 2009 Oscars they planned to work together on a follow-up. At that time, Boal, through his military contacts, was following a Navy SEAL team’s operations. As luck would have it that SEAL team ended up being involved with the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden. Within two days of the assassination, Bigelow announced they were re-working Boal’s Black Ops script into the film that is now Zero Dark Thirty.

So, how does a “based on true events” story turn out when the events and the film production ran parallel? Actually, quite well. The film, which is up for five Oscars, including Best Picture, is a string of events filmed in the still-popular handheld fashion that the Jason Bourne series used to excess. It is one-third torture and interrogation, one-third spy bureaucracy, and one-third Call of Duty.

Central to the CIA investigation is Maya (Jessica Chastain) and her evolution from naive young agent to heavily disguised operative. If this film wins anything at the Feb. 24 ceremony it will be for Chastain’s performance. She has given several great performances in ensembles over the last few years with The Help being a standout, but in Zero Dark Thirty she stands above a cast that includes a dozen recognizable faces including James Gandolfini. As the investigation drags on, her patience thins, and Chastain turns into the female equivalent of Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood. To put it simply, she is the strongest female lead Hollywood has put out in a long time.

As the story progresses through the many terrorist attacks that have occurred over the past decade, the tension continues to mount and Bigelow succeeds in the same way Ben Affleck did in Argo, or Ron Howard did in Apollo 13. Even though everyone knows how the story ends, tension and suspense build out of the relationship that is built between the audience and the characters. It is a terrific feat of visual storytelling and performance that makes this a highly recommended film. 5 out of 5.