Since their Oscar success for 2009’s The Hurt Locker, director Kathryn Bigelow reunited with screenwriter Mark Boal for the controversial film Zero Dark Thirty. The nerve-wrenching thriller chronicles the extensive hunt for the whereabouts of the world’s most wanted terrorist Osama Bin Laden. Since it’s release back in December, the film has been sparking debates and controversy surrounding the use and so-called “glorification” of torture as means for interrogation and advancement in investigation. U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein sent a letter to Sony Pictures that called the movie “grossly inaccurate and misleading.”
Despite the film receiving a backlash from the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee and from the likes of Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney, the film was a critical success. The film earned a total of 5 Oscar nominations including Best Picture and Best Actress. Director Kathryn Bigelow masterfully constructs a film that centers on the extended manhunt to find and kill Osama Bin Laden lead by one woman’s determination and obsession. The film also serves as an unsettling examination of a time in which America is at its most fragile due to the war on terror.
The film begins in total darkness as horrific phone calls from the victims in the World Trade Center are replayed. The panic and emotion in the victim’s voices recalls us back to the horrendous day on September 11th, 2001 as a string of terrorists attacks, planned by Osama Bin Laden, impacted the United States and the world in which we inhabit. A title-card appears on screen shortly after the montage of calls to suggest that the film is “based on first-hand accounts of actual events.” The opening scene takes place at an unknown location known as a “black site”. In a run-down facility, an Arab man by the name of Ammar in rough physical shape has his arms suspended by ropes from the room’s ceiling. A physically intimidating man by the name of Dan (Jason Clarke), along with a group of individuals wearing masks, interrogates an uncooperative Ammar.
As Dan and the other interrogators step outside, one of the masked interrogators is revealed to be a slender CIA analyst with long red hair by the name of Maya (Jessica Chastain). She is clearly uncomfortable by the use of torture in the facility but stands by and observes due to the fact that torture has proven to be an effective way to receive clues and direct answers from the suspects. After the threat of more torture, Ammar gives the interrogators the name of one of Osama Bin Laden’s couriers. It’s this one name that leads Maya to obsessively investigate which ultimately leads to her profound confidence.
The film skips forward through a few years as the United States experiences some political shifts and terrorist attacks spring up throughout the Middle East. Suicide bombings and other attacks, such as the London bombings in 2005 and the Islamabad Marriot Hotel bombing in 2008, proved to be set backs for Maya but ultimately reassured her that she must finish her job. The film chronicles the major events during the hunt for Bin Laden all the way up through the overnight raid of his compound in May of 2011. The construction of these real life events is absolutely riveting. There’s a particular scene in which an al-Qaeda suicide bomber, posing as an agent, kills seven CIA agents. The scene, which depicts the 2009 Khost CIA-base bombing in Afghanistan, is absolutely pulse pounding. The final half hour of the film is mainly focused on the raid of Osama’s compound. This scene is absolutely fantastic and is expertly staged at a cinematic level with no clear sign of heroics.
These scenes wouldn’t have been nearly as great if it weren’t for Kathryn Bigelow’s masterful direction. Throughout her career as a filmmaker, Bigelow has proved with each film that she has a keen sense of cinematic staging. Especially in The Hurt Locker, she stages scenes with such intensity and realism. During the scene of the compound raid, Bigelow stages the actors in such a confined space that only adds to the suspense even though the outcome is known. It’s such a shame that she was snubbed of an Oscar nomination because I honestly feel that she did a better job with his film than she did with The Hurt Locker. She proved with this film that she is fearless and uncompromising. The screenplay written by Oscar-winner Mark Boal is also quite impressive because it just showcases his intensive reporting and eye on detail and facts. No matter if the accusations of false factual information within the narrative are true, Boal wrote a layered screenplay about the war on terror and a strong female protagonist.
As the film received a ton of Oscar buzz and nominations, Jessica Chastain was easily my favorite to win the Best Actress Oscar. She gave a brilliant performance as Maya. As the film comes to a close, Maya starts to break down into tears as she sits alone on an aircraft carrier. Since the hunt is over, some would think she is crying tears of joys due to a sense of accomplishment. It’s believed that she breaks down because she now feels a sense of emptiness. It’s a brilliant shot at the most pivotal point of the narrative that could be interpreted differently. Chastain exceeded my expectations above and beyond. Although the development of her character may seem thin, her character is brilliantly developed through her actions. The film also has a strong supporting cast that includes Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton, Kyle Chandler, Mark Strong, Edgar Ramirez, Mark Duplass, James Gandolfini, Jennifer Ehle, and Chris Pratt. Each of them brings their own to the narrative.
Video (1080p HD): Sony’s high-definition transfer is astounding. The imagery is richly detailed and contrasted. The Middle Eastern landscapes are vivid and the close-up shots of the characters are detailed.
Audio (DTS-HD Master Audio): The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is just as amazing as the high-definition transfer. The dialogue spoken between characters is crisp and clear. The sound quality of helicopters, explosions, and gunfire are mesmerizing.
- The special features provided on the Blu-ray of Zero Dark Thirty are presented in high-definition:
- No Small Feat-Making of Zero Dark Thirty
- The Compound-Tour The Rebuilt Compound
- Geared Up-Watch The Cast Train With Authentic SEAL Gear
- Targeting Jessica Chastain-A Look at The Role of Maya
There is a limited amount of special features offered on the Blu-ray of Zero Dark Thirty. “The Compound” is a 9-minute documentary that chronicles the reconstruction of Osama Bin Laden’s compound set that was built in Jordan. Director Kathryn Bigelow explains the importance of accuracy in detail and the fact that the compound they had built closely resembles Bin Laden’s actual compound. The “Geared Up” feature showcases some cast members going through with real NAVY Seals. The “Targeting Jessica Chastain” documentary features Chastain talking about her character Maya in the film. The problem with these features is the fact that they’re way too short. For a film like this, I was expecting a lot more special features that chronicled the real life events and accuracies portrayed in the film. The making-of documentary is way too short and offers very little that would garner immediate interest. I was also surprised to discover that there is no commentary track offered by Kathryn Bigelow, screenwriter Mark Boal, or even Jessica Chastain. The Blu-ray is still worth picking up for the experience of watching the film’s flawless HD transfer and masterful audio.
Zero Dark Thirty is by far Kathryn Bigelow’s best achievements in her career and one of the best films of last year. The film is more complex than one would think. It’s an unsettling portrayal of the long and destructive mission to find and kill Osama Bin Laden. I have a feeling that the film will be discussed and even criticized for years to come. No matter what conclusions people draw on the controversy surrounding the film, Zero Dark Thirty is one of those rare and bold films that will be impossible to forget.
Click here to purchase Zero Dark Thirty on Blu-ray/DVD/Ultraviolet Digital Copy
The Blu-ray was released on March 19th, 2013.