Zero Dark Thirty Blu-ray Review

Zero Dark Thirty Blu-ray ReviewMaking a movie that deals with the War on Terror is as tricky as walking through a mine field. Lean toward the left and boom! You’re branded as a Socialist who hates our troops and way of life. Lean a little to the right and you’re labeled a jingoistic baby killer that doubles as a Fox News commentator. Finding common political ground to tell your story is a damn near impossible task.

That is unless you are Kathryn Bigelow. In 2008, the 62-year old filmmaker teamed up with screenwriter Mark Boal to make The Hurt Locker, a powerful drama about a bomb squad unit stationed in Bagdad during the Iraq War. Technically, the movie was as brilliant as any of Bigelow’s previous work. But what really made the Best Picture winner unique was how apolitical it was. The type of heavy-handed sermonizing and political grandstanding one would find in say, an Oliver Stone film, was replaced by a refreshingly straightforward, honest and involving character-driven drama. What side the final product leaned to – if at all – was left up to the viewer.

Bigelow and Boal’s second foray into the War on Terror, Zero Dark Thirty, takes the same storytelling approach that Hurt Locker did, and the results are nothing short of astounding. Less action-oriented and more detailed than Locker, Thirty is a riveting account on the decade-long hunt for 9/11 mastermind Osama Bin Laden. Much like Locker, it manages to find that rarified happy medium that manages to applaud the efforts of the men and women fighting the War on Terror while also showing the true complication of the violence perpetrated on both sides.

Zero Dark Thirty Blu-ray Review

The film starts in darkness while audio recordings from September 11, 2001 play in the background, a hard hitting opener that perfect sets up what comes next: a twenty minute sequence dedicated to the torture methods employed by the CIA over the few years that proceeded 9/11. It is also here that we meet a young agency operative named Maya (superbly played by Jessica Chastain). Since joining the agency, Maya has only worked on tracking down Bin Laden. From here, Maya acts as our “guide” as she and her fellow operatives navigate a labyrinth of false leads, facts, tips and figures that eventually lead up to that fateful night in May of 2011 where the Saudi terrorist met his long-overdue fate at the hands of a Navy SEAL team in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

I thought it would be near impossible for Bigelow to top her award-winning work on The Hurt Locker, but she sure as hell did it with this film. Be it the superb performances she draws from the large ensemble cast or the incredible recreation on the nighttime raid on the Bin Laden compound, Bigelow’s remarkable directing propels the movie’s multitude of technical and artistic triumphs. Just as David Fincher did with Zodiac and Alan J. Pakula with All the President’s Men, Bigelow takes a detail-rich, character-dense screenplay (with a known outcome) and manages to make it work like an intense thriller that keeps the viewer on the edge of their seat right up to the end.

In a day and age where more and more directors feel the need to spell things out for their audience, Bigelow goes the other way. She requires the viewer not only to pay close attention to the film’s events, she also requires they draw their own conclusions. The latter could not be truer then when it comes to the film’s depiction of torture as an interrogation device, which of course was the center of a firestorm of controversy this past winter prior to the film’s debut. Senators such as John McCain and Diane Feinstein attacked the film for being “grossly inaccurate and misleading” in suggesting that torturing suspects led to Bin Laden’s demise.

Zero Dark Thirty Blu-ray Review

Bigelow and Boal neither glamorize nor condemn these methods of interrogation. The events were included in the film simply because these things did actually happen and were a part of the long journey that led to Bin Laden whether we like it or not. As to whether they helped actually capture the Al-Qaeda leader is something that is left up to the viewer to decide. Some may call this irresponsible filmmaking. I call it respecting your audience’s intelligence.

If anything, the movie makes a pretty clear case that it was the subsequent years of scrutinizing information, interviewing of the non-torture variety and the occasional bribes that helped the CIA get their man. McCain, Feinstein and their fellow constituents may have figured that out had they opted to pay closer attention to the movie instead of using their overblown knee-jerk reactions for political grandstanding.

Zero Dark Thirty isn’t going to be for everyone, but for anyone who has an open mind and taste for intelligent, engrossing adult filmmaking, it will be quite the rewarding film experience. I loved Argo and was very happy for Ben Affleck and company when they won the Best Picture Oscar last month. But were one to compare Argo to Zero Dark Thirty side by side, there would be no question as to what the best film of 2012 really was.

Zero Dark Thirty Blu-ray Review

High-Def Presentation

Sony’s 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer is exactly what you would expect from a movie that is only three months old: stunning. The colors and picture detail are top flight, and the black levels are remarkably deep without presenting any sort of crush or loss of detail. One needs to look no further than the SEAL’s nighttime excursion into Pakistan to witness that.

The 5.1 DTS HD-MA audio is also superbly handled. Despite being a mostly dialogue-driven film for most of its 157-minute running time, it’s an effective, often immersive and powerful experience. There are plenty of opportunities for rear-channel and LFE activity, and those are used wisely throughout. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has always handled their new releases and top catalog titles with the utmost of care. This is no exception.

Beyond the Presentation

Given all of the history that this film had to work from, I have to say that the supplemental material for Zero Dark Thirty is pretty weak. The material runs in total less than a half hour and doesn’t give too much in terms of background on the film’s production or the real-life events. With the trip to home video being such a quick one, I would not be surprised if we didn’t get a more comprehensive edition a few years from now (at least that is what I am personally hoping for).

  • No Small Feat: Making Zero Dark Thirty (3:51) – A quick look at the making of the film. Contains interview snippets with Bigelow, Boal and cast.
  • The Compound (9:25) – A look at recreating Bin Laden’s compound in Jordan which includes Mark Boal bringing the viewer through the set pointing out certain rooms.
  • Geared Up (7: 03) – The gear used by the SEALS as well as the stealth helicopters are given a closer look in this short.
  • Targeting Jessica Chastain (5:19) – A quick feature on the film’s lead actress.

Zero Dark Thirty Blu-ray Review

The Insider, Zodiac,The Shawshank Redemption, Up in the Air, Good Night and Good Luck, the list goes on and on. There are plenty of great movies that were screwed over by the Motion Picture Academy come Oscar time. By ignoring Kathryn Bigelow’s incredible directing, Mark Boal’s superb script and Jessica Chastain’s fantastic performance, Zero Dark Thirty can now join that list. It’s a gripping procedural drama that moves as fast as the best action movies that will be remembered and respected long after we forget who won what this year at the Academy Awards.

Sony has given the movie a superb Blu-ray transfer but blew it on what could have been a supplemental section similar to the one Warner offered us with Argo. Hopefully we will get a fuller special edition somewhere down the road. For the time being though, this edition comes with a strong recommendation if only to own the best film of 2012 in your collection.

– Shawn Fitzgerald

Shop for Zero Dark Thirty on Blu-ray and DVD combo for a discounted price at (March 19, 2013 release date).

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