The events of September 11, 2001 had a profound effect on the United States of America that forever changed us as a nation. We live in a post-9/11 world, and it is impossible to go back to “the way things were before.” Though it’s been a decade since the event, in the scope of things we’re still living in the immediate aftermath of the most devastating domestic terror attack in history. Filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow has now dealt with these effects in two films, as she previously focused on the events of the Iraq War with her 2008 Best Picture winner The Hurt Locker, and her brilliant 2012 drama Zero Dark Thirty masterfully chronicles the decade-long hunt for the man responsible for the 9/11 attacks: Osama Bin Laden. The result of the latter is a taut procedural thriller that not only entertains, but also provides a difficult and introspective look at America’s place in the post-9/11 world. Hit the jump for my review of Zero Dark Thirty on Blu-ray.
Zero Dark Thirty opens with a black screen, as audio starts to play from real-life phone calls made from people in the World Trade Center towers minutes before they fell. It’s a harrowing experience, and these opening seconds tell audiences exactly what kind of film they can expect going forward. This is not a “ruh-rah!” action movie about a group of Navy SEALs taking down Bin Laden; it’s a thoughtful, slow-burn drama that tells audiences exactly what happened in the years following the 9/11 terror attacks, and asks tough questions without offering any easy answers.
As we follow CIA officer Maya (Jessica Chastain) through her obsessive search for Bin Laden, Bigelow refuses to shy away from showing the lengths to which U.S. forces went in their hunt for information. Yes, the torture scenes in Zero Dark Thirty are disturbing and hard to watch: that’s the point. Screenwriter Mark Boal takes an objective, journalistic viewpoint in portraying the events onscreen, as audiences are asked to draw their own conclusions as to whether the means justify an end.
Though on the surface Zero Dark Thirty may feel like a straightforward procedural, through the brilliant performance of Chastain and Bigelow’s masterful direction the film ponders America’s place in the world after 9/11 and encapsulates our country’s feelings when Bin Laden was finally taken down. Bigelow fills the film out with a stellar ensemble cast giving powerful performances, and every single shot is presented with a sense of purpose and seriousness. It’s an absolutely masterful piece of filmmaking, and it’s destined to go down in history as one of the most important films of the early 21st century.
The film is presented in 1080p HD, 1.85:1 with an incredibly crisp picture. The Abbottabad sequence is still very dark, as was Bigelow’s intention, but the transfer quality is fantastic so nothing has been lost in the interim. It helps that the pic was shot digitally with the ARRI Alexa. The audio is excellent as well, presented here in 5.1 DTS-HD.
Unfortunately, the extras on this disc on decidedly light. I would have preferred a more extensive look into the making of the film or even a roundtable discussion about the themes and issues brought up in the pic, but we’re only left with a collection of featurettes and no audio commentary. The featurettes are still worth a watch, but I hope a more extensive home video release is in the cards down the road.
- No Small Feat – This featurette is a general “making of” for the film, but at just under 4 minutes in length it doesn’t go into near as much detail as a film of this stature warrants. The focus is mainly on what Bigelow brought to the picture as a filmmaker, but everything moves so quickly that it’s tough to gather much insight. The audio clips from the cast and crew is spliced together in a Frankenstein fashion so as to get everything down to a short length, which is a tad distracting. Nevertheless, it’s nice to get a look behind-the-scenes of such a secretive production, and this featurette serves as the very definition of “better than nothing.”
- The Compound – The best extra on the disc is this 9-minute featurette that focuses on the Abbottabad sequence. It’s a fascinating look into how the raid was put together, as we get to see the crew literally build an exact replica of the compound to scale. Bigelow didn’t want any breakaway walls in the structure so she could shoot 360 degrees handheld, so it’s more than a little eerie to see screenwriter/producer Mark Boal give a blow-by-blow tour of the compound that runs down the events of that fateful night as they happened. We also get a neat look at the construction of the stealth helicopters as well as some insight from the actors portraying SEAL Team Six, most amusingly Chris Pratt.
- Geared Up – This featurette delves into the authenticity of the pic, specifically focusing on SEAL Team Six given that the research into the CIA aspects of the film are closely guarded secrets. While a bit surface-level, it’s interesting to see the rigorous training that Bigelow put her actors through in order to do justice to SEAL Team Six’s accomplishment.
- Targeting Jessica Chastain – This is the featurette that could use the most filling out, as 5 minutes is not nearly enough time to devote to Chastain’s brilliant lead performance. We hear from Bigelow, castmembers, and Chastain herself about the difficult role and the character’s interesting arc.
Though it failed to win the top prize due to an unwarranted “controversy,” I still maintain that Zero Dark Thirty was the best film of 2012 and will go down in history as one of the most important works of art pertaining to our nation in the immediate wake of 9/11. Though the extras are a tad disappointing, the film is most definitely worth purchasing for its subject matter and pristine visual quality alone. Subsequent viewings reward viewers by revealing more of Bigelow’s masterful subtext, and the film works extremely well as a gripping procedural thriller.