Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Hurt Locker

Moonwalking Through the Kill-Zone
"Cravin' a burger. Isn't that strange?"

A lone figure walks down an alien landscape in a space-suit of Kevlar and crash-helmet, his only companions are his breath and his thoughts. Death surrounds him, and he walks towards the only certain death he knows of: a make-shift explosive device, conceived in cunning and hate that he must dis-arm in order to save himself, his comrades, and the watching by-standers, one of whom just might be waiting to explode the device. It is not some forbidden planet, or an anarchic Western town, but it could be. It's downtown Iraq, and it comes down to one man walking and facing his fear.

Kathryn Bigelow will probably never be considered a "superstar" director.

That's too bad, because she miles ahead of the so-called "young Turks" doing action movies these days. Instead of following current trends, she adheres to the rock-solid action direction styles of
Anthony Mann and Don Siegel: let the audience know what's going on, and one other thing that too many directors these days forget—an audience has to know the territory their heroes walk through to fully present the dangers they face. In "The Hurt Locker," she may use a hand-held camera a bit too much to re-create the verisimilitude of war-footage, but it comes in handy to lock you into the searching point-of-view of Bravo Company's of Bomb "Tech's" and "Post-Bomb Assessors"—"The Blasters"—in Iraq's Camp Freedom ("They changed it from Camp Liberty to Camp Freedom because Camp Freedom sounds better," says veteran Sergeant JT Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) to the new Team Leader Staff Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner, looking like a cross between Nathan Fillion and Brendan Fraser, like most of the principals of "The Hurt Locker," his performance is understated and full of small nuances). James is described as "a rowdy boy" and "reckless." Before his arrival, "the suit," that cumbersome Kevlar get-up which would protect anyone but the man who needs it most, has been the last resort in a disarmament situation. But that's not good enough for James. He likes to disarm the things by hand, and collect the odd bit of equipment for a trophy that "could have killed" him. He'll go in with "the suit" first, and puzzle the thing out, something that doesn't win him prizes with his team-mates, especially Specialist Eldridge (Brian Geraghty), because the longer it takes James to disarm a bomb, the more vulnerable his team-mates are to snipers.

It doesn't take long for the team to realize that James loves his work a little too much, and that it may kill them before their tour is up. Bigelow keeps a running track of the "
short-timer" count-down as the situations become more dire and the traps more intricate, electronically and ethically.

War films have gone through a weird evolution from the time they were conscious enough to move beyond the "good guys vs. bad guys" (while still acknowledging that both sides share their share of casualties. But it's been since the Korean conflict that movies started to go deeper into the psychosis of war—not the PTSD issues, but the psychosis of being inside the conflict. One of the counselors at Camp Freedom ineffectually tells Eldridge "You know, this doesn't have to be a bad time in your life." Easy for him to say. All Eldridge can think about is the best outcome of the war—surviving it. And when his orders come down to "Be smart. Make a good decision" it's tough to say what is a good day and what is a bad day. But lately, war-films have taken a look at the man on the line and what makes a good soldier, and it comes down to a blurred combination of self-sacrifice and controlled psychopathy. Whatever the motivations its the results that count. We've seen that theme in "Hell is For Heroes," and "Patton," "Apocalypse Now," "The Burmese Harp," "Full Metal Jacket," and "Flags of Our Fathers." How the soldier compartmentalizes the war experience to survive and even stay sane through the fire determines his ultimate worth as a soldier and as a human being. It is that perspective, of life is brief increments, that keeps a soldier walking alone in The Now, where "The Big Picture" is unseen in the limited view of his path, unknowable and brutally finite—the past a bitter memory, the future an empty promise, and today is walked with the high of High Noon.

"The Hurt Locker" is a Full-Price Ticket.


John said...

Glad you appreciated this one Jim. Just want to add that the artistry of the visual design was outstanding. Several times in the film, I thought, "That is an amazing shot." Not in the Dances with Wolves vein... more subtle than that.

It lost a few points (down to an A-) for me due to a few "scripty" scenes toward the end... but outside of those few minutes of dialog... the film felt impressively real to me. And I like how the main characters relationship with the Iraqi boy served more than one purpose in the storytelling.

And holy cow, that sniper showdown scene had me absolutely riveted... even when nothing was happening for several minutes. Jimmimoose, Dan and I watched it together and discussed over beers afterward. All of us were seriously impressed with the amount of tension she builds throughout the movie.

Yojimbo_5 said...

Tension, but no gung-ho heroics. This may be the least viable recruitment movie ever. That one scene shows the miserableness of war without showing the "Be All That You Can Be" moments-not unlike "Jarhead."

Even the most anti-war of movies will inspire SOME-body. This won't.

John said...

And I think that's a good thing.