HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: Zero Dark Thirty
HTS Overall Score:89
“Zero Dark Thirty” was the “controversy” film of the academy awards this year. Constantly under fire from the get go, it was railed on all sides for its directors claims to classified CIA information, it’s rough and brutal depiction of U.S. torture and for its original release date of just before the election being used as political grand standing. Whether or not Kathryn Bigelow had access to privileged information is still to be seen, but luckily for the film it delayed its theatrical release to December so as to stay out of the political cross hairs and be seen as a political stunt just before election. After its release it has gone through critical acclaim for its success and huge amounts of criticism for its supposed portrayal of over the top torture in the hunt for Bin Laden.
“Zero Dark Thirty” is the story of a 10 year hunt for one of the most well-known terrorists of the last century, Osama Bid Laden. While there are a myriad of people and agencies involved in the manhunt this film focuses on one agent, Maya, who spends her entire new career as a CIA agent, doggedly hunting down one man and one man only.
Maya (Jessica Chastain) was recruited right out of High School for the CIA and has literally spent her entire career hunting down Osama Bid Laden. Starting in 2001 the film starts out with the event that shook the United States to its core, the crash attack on the twin towers. Shifting through time (the film will do this quite a few time) we see Maya being introduced to another CIA agent, Dan (Jason Clarke), who is in the middle of torturing a terrorist on the location of Bin Laden. Putting him through the ringer Dan mercilessly rips every last bit of information that he can from this terrorist in hopes that he can glean one phone number, one lead that he can run with and use to prevent another Al Qaeda attack.
Shifting once more we see Maya years later, after Dan has left active duty in the Middle East, now in charge of a unit hunting down Bid Laden with varied results. Finally they have come upon a lynch Pin, Abu Ahmed, a supposed courier for Bin Laden, who seems to be a ghost. Nobody else believes her seriously, but Maya is certain that Abu Ahmed is the key to finding Bin Laden. However Abu Ahmed seems to be a cover name in Al Qaeda and his real identity and location is unknown. Never giving up, even to her superiors, Maya trudges on into the abyss getting deeper and deeper into the spy world. Pulling every string she can, using every last bit of power and blackmail, at times, she finally gains the location and name of Abu Ahmed and tracks him back to the location she believes Osama Bin Laden is at.
Now comes the real feat, after all these years of tracking Abu Ahmed she has to convince her superiors that not only is Abu Ahmed there, but Bin Laden as well. No one in management seems to want to make a move based on Maya’s suppositions and conclusions, they all want some form of Iron clad proof and they all seem to want to take their sweet time about it as well. Frustrated, Maya hounds her boss mercilessly, just waiting for the confirmation of an attack plan that she’s so desperately waiting for. All of this leads up to a half hour, nail biting stealth attack on Bid Laden’ fortress hideout that brought about the capture and death of a terrorist that has tortured the world for so long.
My first opinion regarding all of the political controversy regarding the use of torture in the film is that it was wildly overstated and most likely used just to garner more publicity. Torture WAS used in finding out the location of Osama Bin Laden, and that is pretty much a fact if all the reports are to be believed. To say that the film should have left that out of the film is like saying that they should have left out the CIA and gone with the FBI instead. Whether you agree with or disagree with the tactics used in extracting information is irrelevant in terms of whether or not the film should have showed it. Torture was an important part of the storyline and the scenes shown were emotionally draining and rough, but never crossed the lines of good taste and glorified it or overused it for the sheer morbidity’s sake. Even our protagonists had the effects of the torture wear them down profusely over the course of the film. Dan finally had to leave active field work mid case due to the fact that it was robbing him of his life. Maya, utilized it when necessary but even then she was never truly as comfortable as even Dan was with its uses.
One of the largest hurdles that director Kathryn Bigelow had to overcome was the problem of telling a story that is already known. How do you tell a story that everyone knows the ending to and everyone has heard of? Here is where the rubber meets the road. Instead of telling a story about the attack, she delivers a story that is all in the details. Spanning 10 years of man hunting in 2 hours 37 minutes the actual raid only lasts 30 minutes of the film, the rest is spent carefully and meticulously delving into the events that led up to his discovery and capture. We spend almost 1.5 hours picking apart every little lead, every little area and rock that Abu Ahmed could hide under, all the time watching Maya bob and weave around ever political jab and cross that her superiors throw at her. This isn’t an action movie in any way, shape, or form, even the ending raid on the complex is very methodical and precise without wild action stunts or explosions for eye candy. This is a deconstruction of an event on film (as best as that can be down with the information at hand). A drama that chronicles the life of one woman in a giant international manhunt for a man who has terrorized the world for decades.
The film is a bit of a mixed bag for me personally. The first half drags on impossibly long, I was wondering WHERE all the critical acclaim was coming from until the second half of the film when Abu Ahmed is finally identified. From a technical standpoint the film needs the buildup, the background information on HOW they found him, the only problem was that from a film standpoint those dry bits of information pulled the films pacing way down. Once Abu Ahmed was found the story starts to speed up towards its inevitable conclusion and film started to truly suck me in. Had the first half of the film been a bit faster paced I would have given this film a “great” score, but due to the lack of enjoyment of the first half I believe it pulls it down to a “good” rating.
Rated R for strong violence including brutal disturbing images, and for language
Do I need to really say anything? It’s a brand new Sony release. That almost says it all right there. “Zero Dark Thirty” is shown in 1.85:1 AVC and is a stunning example of picture perfect clarity. Shot on digital it looks as crystal clear as one could hope for with the lack of film grain. Luckily even the dark shots are devoid of digital noise and look as clean as the day shots. Close ups are absolutely riddled with facial detail, I swear I could count the freckles on Jessica Chastain’s face as well as the individual hair’s on Jason Clarke’s beard. Even long shots look as crystal clear as the close ups. Cityscapes look almost as clear as if you were watching it in real life, sometimes even better. Blacks are inky and deep, the raid on Osama’s complex Is in pitch black, yet we’re able to resolve even the finest shadow details. Colors are rich and complex, soft yellows and grungy oranges tend to dominate the desert landscape while soft blues and blacks take over on the indoor CIA scenes. Sony seems to treat their new releases with kid gloves and “Zero Dark Thirty” shines as a result.
Every bit as perfect as the video, the 5.1 DTS-HD MA audio roars onto the scene. Being that a large chunk of the movie is dialogue based the track tends to a bit front loaded for most of the scenes. Dialogue is clean and clear, locked in the front channel with some mild panning across the front sound stage. Even though there’s a lot of dialogue there are quite a few scenes where the rest of the speakers are used to their full extent. Walking through a bazaar my surrounds lit up with a flurry of activity, feet crunching, shopkeepers shouting, and wheels rolling over cobblestones. Even simple scenes are heard with absolute perfect clarity, whether it be the simple thud of a footstep or the sounds of water gurgling over a torture victims face. During the end attack on the complex is really where the speakers light up, though. LFE is powerful and deep, punch and very accurate. I was surprised just how LOW the lfe was too. During the helicopter approach I could feel it drop down impressively low where I was feeling, rather than hearing the output.
• No Small Feat
• The Compound
• Geared Up
• Targeting Jessica Chastain
Flawed, but still a near work of brilliance, “Zero Dark Thirty” shies away from being a truly great film by a hairs breadth, it is still a riveting piece of art that deserves a viewing at least once for those of you interested in the manhunt. Trying to balance the fast paced action scenes with a dose of reality Kathryn yields mixed results which leads to “Zero Dark Thirty” being my least favorite of the academy award winning films this year. However the perfect audio/visual scores plus the subject matter lends itself to a “need to watch at least once” rating from me despite its flaws and shortcomings.
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton, Jason Clarke
Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow
Written by: Mark Boal
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 AVC
Audio: ENGLISH: DTS-HD MA 5.1, English DD 2.0
Studio: Sony Pictures
Runtime: 157 minutes
Blu-Ray Release Date: March 19th, 2013
Buy Zero Dark Thirty Blu-ray on Amazon
Recommendation: Watch It
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