The Hurt Locker
June 26, 2009
On the Big Board
||An old-fashioned character study, brilliantly told
||Maybe the best Iraq movie yet.
||It's been a very long time since a movie made me so anxious and tense for the ENTIRE length of the movie. Great direction.
||Aside from a couple slow moments in the pacing, this was a good treatment of soldiers in Iraq. For a double header, The Kingdom would also be a good choice.
Throughout the 20th century, wartime has always proved a hotbed for cinematic activity, sometimes for better or other times for worse. But the current International entanglement in Iraq has spawned results contrary to previous patterns. The films have pretty much all been for worse.
For some reason, Iraq has proven a very tough nut for the film world to crack. There has been no shortage of attempts commenting on and depicting the conflict through various angles and genres. But not a one has been able to connect with moviegoers. This hasn’t discouraged filmmakers, who seem to be of the common belief that the great Iraq War film is inevitable (just keep that blindfold on and stab away guys, eventually you’ll find it). But while some are in a race to make the Apocalypse Now of our times, others are veering in less grandiose directions. Let’s face it, what does war have a lot of? Guns. And guns mean action. And action sells tickets.
But let me stop you before you start cursing the film Gods for Hollywood’s exploitative ways. The Hurt Locker is no blockbuster. It carried a paltry budget of $11 million and arrives after a long festival tour that included Venice, Toronto, and SXSW, where it saw nearly universal acclaim.
The film chronicles a death-defying Sergeant played by Jeremy Renner – who sounds very similar to his character in the vastly underrated sequel 28 Weeks Later – and his highly trained bomb disposal unit through a chaotic game of high pressure cat-and-mouse where every object could be deadly. The characters grapple with the taxing psychology of their tasks as they count the days until they can return home.
First time screenwriter Mark Boal - who also wrote the short story that begot In the Valley of Elah - was embedded with an U.S. Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD), basically a bomb squad. While the story is fictional, it is deeply rooted in his experiences in Iraq.
Kathryn Bigelow helms the film. Bigelow is not only notable for being a female director, an unfortunate rarity, but interestingly her films tend to be targeted at males, the manliest being the immortally rad Point Break. She also has the excellent Strange Days to her credit as well as the forlorn K-19: The Widowmaker, aka Harrison Ford’s Russian Accent: The Movie.
With Locker, Bigelow has her work cut out for her. Action thrillers about a conflict that is currently ongoing are littered with potential pitfalls. You don’t want to be too trivial and ignore the reality that there are soldiers fighting this very minute, but being an action film you can’t get too preachy, plus you have to supply a satisfying helping of thrills. It’s a delicate balance that is no easy task.
The Kingdom (which I found to be a perfectly satisfying airplane watch) found this out the hard way. I can see the logic in making it; Jason Bourne meets CSI in Saudi Arabia starring Jamie Foxx and Jennifer Garner? Audiences will eat it up. Not really.
But unlike The Kingdom, The Hurt Locker is not a big studio release, which may have caused some apprehension. The festivals and critical buzz surrounding it should give it some street cred and quell some the greedy Hollywood suspicions. Another factor could be the possibility that the war is reaching some kind of conclusion. This may make audiences more willing to accept a film of this type.
Along with Renner, Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty - who turned in memorable supporting performances in Half Nelson and Jarhead respectively - round out the primary cast of promising up-and-comers. Additional cast members include Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes and David Morse, not to mention Evangeline Lilly. Strong.
I, for one, am optimistic that the film will not only be good but successful. After considering all the pieces, watching the trailer and seeing Richard Corliss’ article in Time, The Hurt Locker: A Near-Perfect War Film, I’m cautiously hopeful that Mark Boal and Kathryn Bigelow may be the nutcracker we’ve been waiting for. (Tom Macy/BOP)