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Billed as “The story of history's greatest manhunt for the world's most dangerous man”, Zero Dark Thirty looks at the decade it took the world’s biggest governments to hunt down and kill Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. From September 11th 2001 to his death in May 2011, we see the story of Maya (Jessica Chastain), a young CIA officer as she follows the trail of the terrorist leader and we see how the thinnest of threads throughout many a country lead to the final take down of the world’s (well a fair chunk of it anyway) most wanted man.

Zero Dark Thirty
Whatever your feelings are on the events surrounding 9/11 and its many layers of dubious events, the manhunt for Osama bin Laden was always hot news. The world had painted a target so big on the bearded guy’s face via the media that any hint or nod that the US military was close to finding him (whether it be in a cave or wherever) added another set of intrigue about his whereabouts and his life since the 9/11 attack. Whether it was the mistreatment of potential terrorists to get information, or the after effects 9/11 had in regards to the changes in military approaches, 9/11's knock on effects still travel on today. This event, that never quite fully adds up literally changed the modern world or indeed was used as an excuse to change it and it’s supposed mastermind Osama bin Laden being brought to justice seemed to be used as the carrot at the end of the stick when it came to breaking the rules to get the job done.

Kathryn Bigelow quite rightly saw this subject matter as a story that would thrive on film. After all, this wasn't about random terrorist movements and oil trading, like so many of the post 9/11 political thrillers dealt with, this was about the biggest of bad guys that everyone knows the name of and his capture was an event that many would like to see more of in the land of film. After all, beyond the fractured details of bin Laden living in a house with no wi-fi connection and a lot of pornography, this top secret decade long chase was a story that deserved telling with more clarity, even if we all knew it ended with his body being buried at sea (y’know like Megatron in the first Transformers).

Zero Dark Thirty
After a lot of arguments and controversy about the truth behind the events here, Zero Dark Thirty ends up as a well structured well played thriller. If you remove yourself from the possibility that some of this is more than likely made up for the sake of entertainment or even just for runtime (though at nearly three hours it’s not exactly lean) this is story that’s easy to get involved in. Jessica Chastain is a fantastic lead and an provides yet another well played performance for her blossoming filmography. Sure, we don’t really find out a great deal about Maya in the story but in many ways that helps us get behind her. We simply want what she wants. To be listened to, to find the right clue, to get the break in the case, to be taken seriously and of course to catch bin Laden because of her persistence against the softly softly approach of her colleagues.

Zero Dark Thirty is well plotted and easy to access and it caters to its desired crowd without watering itself down. It makes those that didn't pay close attention during the decade long chase feel more educated on the bin Laden affair and enables viewers to come away feeling like they've learnt things. It poses mini arguments about choices made by those in charge of getting the USA’s revenge and of course it humanises the ‘monster’ that the image of bin Laden had in the world since 9/11 and makes him a fairly scared, cautious guy who’s was holed up in house without the internet (they loved telling us that on the news didn't they?). It’s worth noting we don’t actually ever see bin Laden here and that’s very effective within the perimeters of the film. Beyond all of the controversy this is a solid thriller. New information is played with just the right “oooh what will this lead to?” reveals as the chase unravels and the Call of Duty style pay off is combat with an equal share of impressive operations and WTF botches. Of course this isn't exactly popcorn fun, but Bigalow keeps her film moving and compelling and uses her cast extremely well keeping this story of hide and seek very fresh feeling and full of well aimed info-tainment.

Zero Dark Thirty

Video


There's a a distinct DVD softness to this image but it's still pretty impressive for it's standard definition power. The image's biggest wow factor is that it's filled with strong colour. Chastain's ginger hair quite literally jumps off of the largely dark suit and tie office based set up and even more so in the sandy based harsh sunlit locations. Skin tones are rich with pinkness and natural tans, lighting is always warm yet natural and even with the semi documentary feel to the visuals, there's no mistaking the Hollywood money behind this. It's the use shadows and the dark elements of the frame that really add the extra bit of sheen to the otherwise shaky cam set up but it really work wonders with the beating sun lighting up everything else in the frame most of the time.

Jagged edges seems to plague some of the elements and text between chapters in the film never feels sharp with its stuttered digital edges. Jumping to the not so covert attack at the end of the film, the cover of darkness is key and the DVD does its best to hold its soft imagery together. This dusty, deep dark image intentionally keeps the detail scarce and its really only the bright and striking green night vision elements that provide the visual flare to keep the finale interesting to look at.

Zero Dark Thirty

Audio


The best this about this track is the driving bass in the tonal score that keeps many of the slower moments of the film feeling as if they are leading somewhere. As far as the actiony elements of this this largely not-so-actiony film goes, the bigger scenes are full of screeching tyres and exploding bombs to keep everything realistic,  as opposed to anything too glossy and loud. It's more quick and sharp bursts of building elements with the occasionally bassy BOOM to sell impacts. Sure the finale has a lot more focus on sound, such as chopper blades, bursts of gunfire and the crackle of solider dialogue but again its a mostly realistic approach as opposed to anything flashy and constant. Still it's all very well handled.

Zero Dark Thirty

Extras


The only extras you'll see here are trailers for Oblivion, Mama, and Les Miserables.

Zero Dark Thirty

Overall


I honestly thought I’d enjoy the experience of Zero Dark Thirty less on this repeat viewing as it totally struck me as a watch once sort of film, but it still hit in all the right places in my rewatch here and I really do like Jessica Chastain’s drive in the role. Oh and as a word of warning - John Barrowman does turn up in the film a few times and will totally drop you out of the reality of the film every time you see his face.

The DVD is about as good as a DVD get in the looks department and the audio pretty much matches that, It's just a shame there's no extras.


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