Customer Reviews: Zero Dark Thirty (Blu-ray/DVD Combo + UltraViolet Digital Copy)
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on January 12, 2013
"I want to make something absolutely clear. If you thought there was some working group coming to the rescue well I want you to know that you're wrong. This is it. There is nobody else hidden away on some other floor. There is just us and we are failing." -CIA Officer

There's a reason Zero Dark Thirty was nominated for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay, the movie is just that good. It may not be a movie for all audiences. If you go see this movie expecting to see a movie that looks like a James Bond or Jason Bourne action extravaganza, you might find yourself sorely disappointed. Likewise it's not a Tom Clancy techno thriller. Zero Dark Thirty is an honest drama showing the CIA's decade long struggle to find the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks.

The main character of the movie is CIA analyst named Maya (played by Jessica Chastain); no last name is given. Maya enters the hunt for Osama Bin Laden at an undisclosed CIA facility where captured terrorists are being held and questioned. She arrives to witness the "enhanced" interrogation of Ammar, a courier for Saudi terrorists. Through Ammar's interrogation and many others, Maya begins to piece together information on Osama's network, learning of a senior courier named Abu Ahmed who had direct access to Bin Laden. Finding Abu Ahmed in Pakistan is like looking for a needle in a haystack. But look Maya does, every spare moment, for a decade. Even though she's an analyst, not a field agent, the mere presence of an American woman in Pakistan puts her in danger. She survives an assassination attempt by Islamist gunmen. Some of her friends aren't so lucky.

As I said earlier, don't expect this movie to be like most spy stories where enemy agents give themselves away and intricate conspiracies unravel before the hero's brilliance. Maya and her colleagues must sift through thousands of hours of interrogations and millions of "facts" to find just the ones that are true and relevant. It's no easy task. Just getting Abu Ahmed's real name takes years of painstaking research. Meanwhile, more attacks take place inside Pakistan, Afghanistan and Europe. Actual news footage of those events serves to show the passage of years. Once Abu Ahmed's name becomes known, there's still the matter of finding him in areas of Pakistan where American's are likely to be shot on sight. Kathryn Bigelow does a masterful job of showing the long hours and hard work behind the search. After 2 hours watching the un-glamorized process of intelligence gathering, the actual SEAL Team 6 takedown of Bin Laden could have been just an afterthought. But Bigelow's documentary-esque style gives the commando sequences an added authority.

"I'm going to put you in that box, let me be honest, that box sucks, you don't want to go in that box."

There's been some hubbub claiming that the movie is pro torture. I'd just like to point out that director Kathryn Bigelow is hardly a Joel Surnow (24) or John Milius (Red Dawn, Dirty Harry). She a graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute and Columbia University who personally studied under liberal icons Susan Sontag and Milos Forman (Hair, People vs. Larry Flint, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest). Much of her work before the Hurt Locker was decidedly feminist. She hardly fits the profile of someone out to promote torture. But she had done thousands of hours of research for a film project on the Battle of Tora Bora. When word of Bin Laden's death became public, she shelved her completed screenplay for that movie and started on Zero Dark Thirty. The hours she spent researching Bin Laden, the CIA, Pakistan and Afghanistan for the unmade movie situated her ideally for telling the story of the CIA's hunt for Bin Laden. Add to that the unprecedented access to information she got from the Obama Administration. So much of the information comes from the "highest sources." It's also confirmed by much of the written record including exhaustive work done by journalist Mark Bowden (The Finish: the Killing of Osama Bin Laden).

Because of the controversy, I doubt that Zero Dark Thirty will sweep the Oscars. It may not be an easy movie for some people to watch. But it is a riveting, true-to-life, account of a piece of American history that deserves to be told. And director Kathryn Bigelow did a masterful job telling it.
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on January 6, 2013
ZERO DARK THIRTY REVIEW, by Jordan B. -- 5 / 5

"I'm not your friend. I'm not gonna help you. I'm going to break you. Any questions?"

The ten-year manhunt for the world's most wanted terrorist leader is a story we all followed and one whose ending will likely go down in history as one of the twenty-first century's most triumphant moments, both for America and for many others across the globe. With ZERO DARK THIRTY, director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriting partner Mark Boal have taken those ten years and condensed them into 157 very deliberate, riveting, and powerful minutes. Much like the manhunt itself, ZERO DARK THIRTY is a powerhouse, a thrilling and winding tale that requires patience but arrives with an ending worth waiting for.

September 11, 2001 was a Tuesday. ZERO DARK THIRTY begins with a bone-chilling opening sequence that brings us back to that dark day. Bigelow shows us nothing but black, and layers tens or perhaps hundreds of audio recordings of phone calls from hijacked-airplane passengers and those trapped in burning towers to their respective loved ones and to emergency operators. It is a stark, stripped sequence that is ultimately extremely affecting.

But so, too, is the next extended sequence, one that takes place in 2003 and shows a terrorist at an unnamed detention facility relentlessly tortured by a member of the CIA, Dan (Jason Clarke), and his colleagues. Wanted is information that will hopefully lead to the capture of Osama bin Laden, but given is nothing. And so the torture continues.

Many have condemned Bigelow and Boal for these extended torture sequences, with some critics and viewers claiming that it glorifies torture and intelligence officials stating that it incorrectly implies that these "enhanced interrogation techniques,", such as water-boarding and sleep deprivation, garnered key information that led to bin Laden's capture.

I will briefly take an aside and add my two cents with this: 1) I don't agree that the film takes the stance that torture is "good" or permissible, and 2) I don't agree that the film implies that the torture of CIA detainees directly led to the capture of Osama bin Laden. But I digress.

The rest of the film follows newcomer CIA agent Maya (Jessica Chastain) and her colleagues as they sift through years of intelligence data, with more coming in than they can handle and most of it a paper trail leading to dead ends. That is, until Maya follows a lead that, with her undying confidence and ruthless conviction, garners a name to follow and eventually a location to scope out: the Abbottabad, Pakistan compound that housed Osama bin Laden and his all-important courier.

ZERO DARK THIRTY closes with a thrilling raid that will surely keep you on the edge of your seat, or bobbing your knee up and down, or biting your nails, or whatever your nervous tick may be. Bigelow creates tension that is palpable, even though we already know the outcome.

Much like David Fincher's 2007 crime-thriller ZODIAC, ZERO DARK THIRTY is a cold, calculated procedural of whose beginning and ending we are fully aware but whose events in-between we might not be. ZERO DARK THIRTY sheds light on these in-between events via first-hand accounts of the manhunt for bin Laden, dramatized to ensure full effect on-screen. Though obviously condensed, the film is certainly compelling, and unfolds swiftly and with ease.

The success of ZERO DARK THIRTY as a motion picture rests on the shoulders of two very capable women: Academy Award winning director Kathryn Bigelow and Academy Award nominated star Jessica Chastain.

Bigelow's execution here is nothing short of masterful. The film is 157 minutes long but plays like a 100-minute thriller due to Bigelow's ability to pack as much punch in each moment as humanly possible. And yet, with all this information to present, she never forgets that there is a very real human element behind all that intelligence.

Enter Chastain as Maya, a tough-as-nails woman who takes on the ball-breaking task of finding bin Laden with fierce tenacity and exciting verve. Chastain, in a word, is exceptional. She plays the role close to the chest, wearing Maya's emotions on her sleeve and crafting a performance that never feels forced. It simply feels real, as though Chastain is her true-life CIA counterpart. And there is no better acting than acting that feels real.

ZERO DARK THIRTY is perhaps 2012′s most vital film, not because of the politics people try to pull from it but because of the story it tells, or rather, the story Bigelow and Boal allow to tell itself. This is a satisfying procedural at its finest, a gripping, compelling, dramatic thriller that begs to be seen and discussed. It's a story our nation remembers, and one we will never forget.
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I have read and heard so much about this movie in the last 3-4 months, including that fantastic trailer, that I literally couldn't wait to see it for myself. I saw it this past weekend here in Cincinnati.

"Zero Dark Thirty" (2012 release; 157 min.) brings the story of "the greatest man hunt in American history". As the movie opens we hear (but don't see) voices in distress as 9/11 is happening. The movie then moves to 2003, to a CIA "black site", where we get the first of a number of "enhanced interrogation scenes", including the infamous waterboarding techniques. We get to know Maya (played by Jessica Chastain), a young CIA operative who is tasked with trying to find Bin Laden. The years come and go, with very little progress. Then finally comes a breakthrough. Even though you know how it all ends, I don't want to give further plot details as it really woudl ruin your viewing experience.

Several comments: the last hour and 10 min. of the movie is nothing short of riveting, truly the best movie-viewing you can get, but I felt that the first hour and a half were a bit excessive in length, and had that been edited tighter, it would've made for even a better movie. The "enhanced interrogations" scenes have proven to be quite controversial for many, but I thought it was an eye-opener to see what 'waterboarding' actually is. That aside, I am really glad that the movie makers have kept the politics out of the movie, and strictly focus on the nitty-gritty details of the hunt for Bin Laden. Last but not least, the real heroes of the movie are of course the Navy SEALs who come in at the end and take care of business, seemingly without as much as breaking a sweat. We owe these guys a ton of gratitude! Bottom line: even though it's a bit long for its own good, "Zero Dark Thirty" is a MUST-SEE movie, period.
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on January 16, 2016
This film makes you think about the information gap which exists between government entities and those who actually get their hands dirty. I know some parts have been altered for this film, but IMO, I thought the actors, camera work, direction, sets...were very realistic and also fairly representative of the actual events. I won't bother to address the issue about hard drives or information in/out. It's history at this point. This was a difficult film to make, for certain. I think truth about any part of this endeavor has been closely followed, but really, we're just judging a film, not changing the universe. I'm voting for a good film, entertaining in a non-humorous way. Everyone has their opinions about what took place....but for me, this film was well done and very much worth the watch. Probably will buy it, if it drops in price. Yeah, I know...good luck with that!
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on December 2, 2015
Great movie. Obviously it's a hollywood adaptation so stuff might be exaggerated, but I feel like this one at least is closer than a lot of other "true stories" made into movies. It has a good blend of the "boring" parts about gathering intel, yet the end combat scene is still good. The characters are great. They feel real and have good development. Nothing about this movie is "dumbed down" which I like. It's great writing and well paced. The flow is great. I think it's either a bit long or a bit short. I love the topic, so I personally would love to see more. However, I get that isn't for everyone so it should be shorter. There is some scenes that without being expanded should just have been cut from the movie. Not many, but a few there.

Overall though, I'm very interested in the topic and found this to be fairly realistic (from what we know, it matches the one SEALs book pretty well), and well written. Can't recommend it enough.
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on June 16, 2015
This was a very scary and edge of your seat real life story! I totally loved it!! The characters came to life. I could be wrong as I rarely watch regular TV, but I believe this is the film that Jessica Chastain won her Oscar for. She's excellent in this movie . Good casting all the way around.
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on August 18, 2015
Best movie of the year it was released. It is sad that it did not win an Oscar but too many people read those NY Times Reviews and were horrified by the waterboarding scenes. (I would assume that they had never been in a war.) Since many movies are full of fatal car crashes and shootings, etc., I do not understand why scenes of something that was developed by the US for helping our downed pilots understand and defeat enemy efforts to frighten them.
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on May 9, 2016
The movie is factual, for the most part, except for the artistic license taken with the protagonist, Maya. She was recruited straight out of high school to go to work for the CIA. Her work is her obsession, her sole purpose in life, and she will not rest until Osama bin Laden is captured. Her fierce determination is shaking up the business-as-usual bureaucratic establishment. Her immediate supervisors (Kyle Chandler and Mark Strong) are put off by her take charge mentality, over shadowing and delegating them to a back-row seat. She retains her position, because higher-ranking officials in the Obama Administration, such as Secretary of Defense Leon Pancetta (James Gandolfini), know of her and are backing her.
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on March 30, 2013
It is a GOOD movie albeit I don't think many people would really get into it. None-the-less, I found it very realistic and believable. Even the explosions were realistic instead of the typical Hollywood "nuclear" hand grenade. I t was slow paced but then the real event took about 10 years. I doubt my wife or a typical date would enjoy it but for a day at home alone it was a GOOD movie. It is not easy to follow so you have to pay running to the fridge or you'll miss something. It also portrays classic bureaucratic infighting that shames the US government. All I can say more is "Go Girl! Follow your training, education and experience!"
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on February 17, 2016
Follows Matt Bissonette's "No Easy Day's" account of what happened in Abbotabad but even more, the CIA actions leading up to UBL's location and eventual demise. As a veteran I appreciate the movie's respect for accuracy and professional portrayal of CIA and Special Operators simply doing their jobs in a dangerous world. Of course our Government has refuted the accuracy of the events portrayed in the film as a standard "CYA" posture, but several individuals have validated the event as seen. Regardless, it's a historic and excellent view of dogged determination to hunt down and prosecute the world's most notorious terrorist with extreme prejudice. Definitely worth the price of admission! RR
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