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Zero Dark Thirty (Blu-ray Review)

13 Mar, 2013 By: John Latchem

Street 3/19/13
Sony Pictures
Box Office $94.63 million
$30.99 DVD, $40.99 Blu-ray
Rated ‘R’ for strong violence including brutal disturbing images, and for language.
Stars Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton, Jennifer Ehle, Mark Strong, Kyle Chandler, Edgar Ramirez, James Gandolfini, Chris Pratt, Harold Perrineau, Stephen Dillane.

Whatever viewers might expect from Zero Dark Thirty, what they won’t get is a political treatise. Zero Dark Thirty isn’t concerned with lecturing its audience as much as presenting a matter-of-fact procedural about the investigation to locate terrorist leader Osama bin Laden. Beyond that, viewers are free to overlay whatever personal political biases they bring to the experience.

Some scenes may be seen as brutal, others as overly simplistic. But the film is consistently compelling, guiding viewers point-by-point as CIA analysts use all the evidence at their disposal to hunt down the al-Qaeda mastermind responsible for the 9/11 attacks and then send in a SEAL team to take him out.

Jessica Chastain is captivating as Maya, the young operative leading the investigation with steely resolve. Based on an actual person, Maya was recruited into the CIA out of high school and has spent her entire career in the clandestine services trying to find bin Laden. This process is expertly laid out by director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal, as Maya sidesteps bureaucratic nonsense and applies pressure to her CIA bosses after the compound that may be housing bin Laden is discovered, and nothing is done about it for four months.

But the film kicks it up a notch in depicting the raid itself, putting the audience right there with the Navy SEALS in almost real time and providing a good sense of what it must have been like on that fateful day May 2, 2011. Bigelow underplays the patriotic aspects of the significance of the attack, focusing instead on the professionalism of those who carried it out.

A home video such as this is just begging for a more comprehensive documentary about the real-life situation being depicted in the film (similar to how the Argo disc included several documentaries about the real events shown in that movie). Instead, the Zero Dark Thirty disc is rather scant, with extras limited to four behind-the-scenes featurettes with a total run time of 25 minutes. “No Small Feat” is a four-minute primer on how the movie came to be, evolving from another project Bigelow was already working on involving the hunt for bin Laden. The nine-minute “The Compound” details how the production crew re-created bin Laden’s fortress as exactly as they could, which adds to the verisimilitude of the film. “Geared Up” is seven minutes about the military hardware used, and how the filmmakers had to make their best guess about how some of the classified equipment worked, such as the top-secret stealth helicopters used in the raid. Finally, “Targeting Jessica Chastain” is a self-explanatory five-minute profile of the actress and her Oscar-nominated performance.

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