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ZERO DARK THIRTY
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Ehle, James Gandolfini
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Audio: DTSH D 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Sony
Features: See Review
Length: 157 Minutes
Release Date: March 19, 2013

I found bin Laden...you're going to kill him for me.” - Maya

You're telling me the Oscars are political? Get out of town!” - Robin Williams

Film ****

Never let it be said that spurned political enemies can't derail a film destined for greatness.

Zero Dark Thirty is the gritty, suspenseful and fascinating story of the decade-long hunt for one of the most wanted men in human history. It was made by Kathryn Bigelow, who made history as the first female Best Director winner with her excellent The Hurt Locker. But history more and more is controlled by a powerful few.

After the attacks of 9/11, America woke up to the very real threat of Islamic terrorism. Not all Muslims are terrorists, of course, but the ones that are are patient, determined, and deadly. The mastermind behind the unthinkable attacks that changed a city's skyline forever and left more than 3,000 innocent dead was, of course, Osama bin Laden.

During the first years of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, terrorists were captured and harshly interrogated in an attempt to thwart future attacks and save more lives. This film doesn't gloss over that fact...most of the first act shows the carrot-and-stick approach to get determined jihadists to spill their secrets.

Enter Maya (Chastain), last name never given. She is a CIA agent new to these practices, but who quickly becomes steeled to them in her efforts to bring the master terrorist to final justice. The quest would last more than ten years and two presidents.

Obama, of course, made the bold proclamation that we would no longer use “torture”, and forbade all forms of harsh interrogation. But eight years before bin Laden would finally be killed by a team of brave Navy SEALs, one piece of information that came out during those sessions of questioning turned out to be the key: a man many terrorists identified as bin Laden's personal courier. He carried the messages and videos for all the world to see.

Maya never bought the idea that bin Laden was hiding in some cave in the tribal areas of Afghanistan. To run an international terrorist organization like al Qaeda, he had to be somewhere more up to date.

The courier was believed dead, but it turns out his death was highly exaggerated. His older brother, who looked a bit like him, was the one who died. Now, with some crafty intelligence, there is new hope...track the courier, find out his point of origin, and maybe, just maybe, you find bin Laden.

We all know the story, and it's to Ms. Bigelow's credit that she can take an event where the outcome is known and still make it so suspenseful you can barely stand it. I chewed my nails to the quick in the last stretch of the film, when the go-ahead was finally given, and our brave men brought an evil man to the ultimate justice.

The movie is driven by Maya's obsession...in one stretch, they have identified the house where bin Laden has resided, but the reluctant politicians don't act. She boldly writes the number of days that pass on her superior's door.

Kathryn Bigelow had unprecedented access to CIA agents when making the movie, and used the information they could give her to craft a film of uncompromising drive and power. Yet, in the end, it seems not everyone was talking to each other, or towing the established line. The president and his party repeated the lie that harsh interrogation never EVER led to actionable intelligence (see: global warming, stimulus, the rich don't pay their fair share, etc.). But his own people confirmed that the one and only lead that brought us to bin Laden came from the same tactics he proudly banned.

Hollywood and Washington turned on the film and its creator. Though it scored some Oscar nominations, Ms. Bigelow was loudly denied a nod for one of the decade's finest achievements in directing. Senators went publicly after her, the agents that spoke to her, and even against the studio, insisting that they admit it was all a lie.

To their credit, they have all stood firm, but that wasn't enough to rescue the movie on Oscar night. Citizen Kane taught what happens when you take on the protected, and Zero Dark Thirty repeated the lesson, taking home only a shared win for Sound (with Skyfall).

I challenge anyone to watch this movie and not find it one of the best, most original, and most compelling films of recent memory. There is a reality of fear, emotion and determination rarely captured on screen. Jessica Chastain carries the weight of the picture and its proceedings with grace and dignity. Her final shot, knowing that her lengthy quest was finally at an end, will stay with you long after the credits roll.

We sadly live in an unthinkable time where truth can be deemed a threat and must be squashed at all costs. It's been more than half a year since the fiasco in Benghazi that left four Americans dead. Every piece of evidence that comes up gets brushed aside or ignored.

Kathryn Bigelow is no conservative to my knowledge, but she has shown with two stunning movies that she appreciates the heroism of our troops and those who fight the most important war we've ever faced, even with a hand tied behind the back. There is nothing political here.  In fact, one crucial scene has decisions being made in a room featuring portraits of Obama, Bush and Clinton.  If you ask me, her ultimate revenge should be to make the film of Benghazi in the same powerful and unflinching way she made this one. Oscar prediction: zero wins.

Video ****

This is a film with an extreme visual style, from the burning sunlight of the Middle East to the dark raid on bin Laden's fortress, where stealth black helicopters operate in complete darkness. Everything comes through with the clarity and detail only Blu-ray can provide. Outstanding.

Audio ****

The Oscar-winning sound is no joke, either, and the DTS master audio delivers alarming dynamic range that mostly works because of the quiet (and suspenseful) moments leading up to hell breaking loose. Quite perfect.

Features ***

There are featurettes on the making of the film, the compound set, the cast training with authentic SEAL gear, and Jessica Chastain as Maya. A DVD is also included.

Summary:

Make a movie about the assassination of Bush, and the left proclaims freedom of speech. Make a movie that undermines the politically correct narrative, and you've unleashed unholy fury. Zero Dark Thirty is a masterpiece of courage that tells the true story of history's greatest manhunt without gloss, polish, or trepidation. It's a must-see.

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