By Forrest Hartman
Zero Dark Thirty
4 stars (out of four)
Rated R for strong violence including brutal disturbing images, and for language
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand
Director Kathryn Bigelow may have won both of her Oscars for the 2008 film “The Hurt Locker,” but “Zero Dark Thirty” is her best project to date. The high praise for Bigelow’s newest feature isn’t meant to disparage “Hurt Locker,” which is a great film in it’s own right, but to underscore how powerful and affecting “Zero Dark Thirty” is.
The movie is not only great, it’s a reminder that Oscar voters don’t always get it right. Although nominated for five Academy Awards during the most recent race, it won only for sound editing. And, although the film earned a best picture nod, Bigelow was mysteriously snubbed in the director race.
The lukewarm reception from industry insiders may have more to do with politics than anything on screen. Controversy developed around the project, which details the U.S. hunt for terrorist Osama bin Laden, before most Americans had seen it. The problem? Several scenes depict U.S. intelligence officials torturing terror suspects in an effort to track the al Qaeda leader. Critics argue that these scenes are misleading and promote torture, but the filmmakers disagree. In truth, it doesn’t matter.
No work of historical fiction is 100 percent accurate because the fictionalization and condensation of at least some details is necessary. One can argue that “Zero Dark Thirty” promotes the use of torture in intelligence gathering, but one can just as easily argue that the Batman movies promote vigilante justice.
Look beyond the controversy, and what one finds is a compelling story that was ready for an audience. Bigelow uses an impressive ensemble cast to walk viewers through the years-long manhunt for bin Laden, and the material is both intellectually stimulating and exciting. Although many players do fine work, Jessica Chastain landed a best actress Oscar nomination because she is the picture’s driving force.
Bigelow does a fine job condensing the dense material into a palatable format and, although the film runs more than two and a half hours, the pacing seems brisk. That she was left out of Oscar’s best director race is as inexplicable as the snubbing of Ben Affleck, the man who directed this year’s best picture winner, “Argo.”
DVD and Blu-ray extras include four behind-the-scenes features.