Highly Recommended
4 stars
Overall Grade
4 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Movie Itself
5 Stars
HD Video Quality
5 Stars
HD Audio Quality
5 Stars
1.5 Stars
High-Def Extras
0 Stars
Bottom Line
Highly Recommended

Zero Dark Thirty

Street Date:
March 19th, 2013
Reviewed by:
Review Date: 1
March 6th, 2013
Movie Release Year:
157 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
Rated R
Release Country
United States

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

Out of the nine Best Picture nominees from 2012 there were three that focused on retelling historical events that we already knew the ending to. The winner, 'Argo,' told a harrowing tale about a top-secret CIA mission to get Americans out of Iran after the violent raid on the embassy. 'Lincoln' engrossed us in the difficult political wrangling that our 16th president had to do in order to abolish slavery for good. The last film was 'Zero Dark Thirty'. Director Kathryn Bigelow ('The Hurt Locker') set her sights on giving us a thrilling account of what it took to hunt down and kill Osama bin Laden. With each of these films we knew the ending going in, but that didn't matter one bit.

There's been a lot of controversy surrounding 'Zero Dark Thirty.' Specifically, whether or not it really condones torture. This is something you'll have to decide on your own. Is information gained directly from torture, or is it culled afterward when no torture is happening? These are the kinds of issues the movie raises and it's up to the audience to decide for itself.

Maya (Jessica Chastain) is an amalgamation of about a half-dozen female CIA analysts known as The Sisterhood (Note: If you want to know more about them seek out the HBO documentary 'Manhunt'). Maya starts off as a somewhat timid field agent who flinches, ever so slightly, at the sight of seeing a prisoner tortured. Her mission is simple though: find bin Laden at any cost.

Maya soon becomes embroiled in the mission to hunt down the man responsible for 9/11. Watching this process is thrilling. Bigelow pieces together the events seamlessly, allowing little room for the audience to catch its breath. There's no time to waste since a decade-long manhunt is being condensed into a two-hour movie.

'Zero Dark Thirty' like 'Lincoln' and 'Argo', highlights the details that have gone unnoticed by the general public. So, even though we know how the movie ends, we have no idea about the journey to get there. That's why watching this movie is so riveting.

The movie is full of amazing acting talent, most of them cameos. Jason Clarke as a CIA agent named Dan gives one of the best intimidating performances of 2012. There's a sinister uneasiness in his words, "If you lie, I will hurt you." He says them with a quiet force, but the detainees know exactly how serious he is. Watching him work is simultaneously unpleasant and mesmerizing.

The search for bin Laden and the cloak and dagger techniques used to get him are stunning to behold. You don't think the movie can get much better, then it does. The last 20 – 30 minutes of the movie are devoted completely to the raid on bin Laden's compound. This is a master class in how to shoot and edit an action sequence. You never feel lost or overwhelmed by extraneous action. This is a surgical strike with terrifying efficiency. Bigelow is able to extract all of the suspense and dread that might happen during one of these raids. It would have been so easy for the movie to go on auto-pilot at this point. Instead it becomes a smart action movie piled on top of an already smart political thriller.

'Zero Dark Thirty' was my personal favorite movie of 2012. It is a completely engrossing, thought-provoking piece of modern history. Observing it play out, in the frantic kinetic pace that Bigelow fashions, is a real treat.

Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats

Sony has provided a Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack for this release. A cardboard slipcover is included. The movie is pressed onto a 50GB Blu-ray Disc. Both discs are housed in a standard keepcase. Inside there is a code for an UltraViolet Digital Copy. On the back of the case Sony has labeled this as a Region A release.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

Sony continues delivering masterful transfers of their most recent films with 'Zero Dark Thirty.' This entire Blu-ray is demo-quality. It's a richly detailed, perfectly contrasted transfer that should be used to show off what your TV is capable of.

Wow! The detail portrayed here is stunning. There are a lot of up-close-and-personal shots that exhibit very fine hair, Jessica Chastain's light freckles, tiny pores, and the smallest drops of sweat slowly sliding down someone's face.

Color is immaculate and vivid. Earth tones dominate the Middle Eastern setting, while a sterile blue and white take over in the office settings. Where this transfer really shines is its resolution in the black areas. Since the entire raid is completed under the cover of darkness it would've been real easy for the details to get lost and muddled making the last half hour of the movie unwatchable. That isn't the case here. Blacks are permanently dark. Different shades of black and gray are perfectly defined, giving us a clear view of the nighttime raid. Never is there a hint of noise or banding in the blackness either. These are some of the deepest, cleanest blacks I've ever seen on a Blu-ray.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

The movie's audio is just as stunning. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is everything you'd want, and more, from a thriller. It's engaging in its action, clear in its fidelity, and really loud when it needs to be.

The settings in 'Zero Dark Thirty' change continuously. There are busy CIA offices, intense interrogation scenes, hurried outdoor bazaars, whisper-quiet helicopters, and conversations in secluded corridors. Each of these settings has a distinct sound. The rear channels pick up all sorts of activity whenever we're out on the streets of Pakistan. The dialogue in the interrogations is loud and forceful, with a slight echo as it bounces into the rears. The helicopter blades provide an all-around swoosh-swoosh-swoosh as they glide through the night sky. This mix picks up everything and places it right where it needs to be.

Dialogue is always clear, from the whispers to the yells. LFE roars when it needs to. There are a few heavy explosions that really packed a low-end punch when they go off. I loved every bit of this demo-quality mix and I'm sure you will too.

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

  • The Compound (HD, 9 min.) — Kathryn Bigelow walks us through the construction of the bin Laden compound set that they built in Jordan. She, along with a few fellow filmmakers, stresses the importance of accuracy and the fact that the replica they built is almost identical to the one bin Laden was found in.

  • Geared Up (HD, 7 min.) — Writer/producer Mark Boal is joined by Bigelow and actor Chris Pratt to talk about the training the actors received from real Navy Seals.

  • Targeting Jessica Chastain (HD, 5 min.) — Another EPK-style clip-heavy featurette. This time we get the inside info on why Chastain was cast and what she thought about playing the role of Maya.

  • No Small Feat: Making 'Zero Dark Thirty' (HD, 4 min.) — A less than impressive look at what it took to get the movie made. Lots of interviews, lots of clips, no real substance. The most interesting tidbit is when Bigelow discusses working on a hunt for bin Laden movie before he was killed, then having to rewrite the movie to coincide with the eventual success.

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

There are no Blu-ray exclusives provided.

Final Thoughts

'Zero Dark Thirty' is a fascinating tale of real-life espionage which culminated into a seminal event in modern American history. I can't say enough good things about the movie. I'll similarly gush about the audio and video presentations presented here. They're as perfect as you can get, they really are. The only bummer about this release is the barebones sorry excuse for a special features package. They're all EPK interview featurettes. There isn't even an audio commentary to give us the lowdown on the movie's historical accuracy. Man, a commentary would've been fantastic. Still, this release is highly recommended.

Technical Specs

  • Blu-ray/DVD/Ultraviolet Digital Copy

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p/AVC MPEG-4

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 1.85:1

Audio Formats

  • English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
  • English: Dolby Digital 2.0
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 (Audio Descriptive Track)


  • English, English SDH, and Spanish


  • No Small Feat - Making Zero Dark Thirty
  • The Compound - Tour the film's rebuilt compound
  • Geared Up - Watch the cast train with authentic SEAL gear
  • Targeting Jessica Chastain - A look at the role of Maya

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