Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Hurt Locker (2008)

Director: Kathryn Bigelow                                Writer: Mark Boal
Film Score: Marco Beltrami                             Cinematography: Barry Ackroyd
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty

The winner of the Academy Award for best picture of 2008, Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker is an intense study of an explosive ordinance disposal team during the Iraq war. From the moment the film begins there’s an obvious emphasis on realism by Bigelow that goes way beyond the cinema verite style of camera work. How does one convey the death of a soldier in its relative importance? In the normal course of a war film where a character who is present in the bulk of the film dies at the end, the audience can’t help but feel the weight of that death. By the same token, if a relative unknown dies in the beginning, the audience has little invested and doesn’t know the character enough to feel much. Bigelow gets around this by using Guy Pearce in the opening, a star we all know and unconsciously look forward to seeing throughout the film. His death, then, in the first ten minutes of the film, allows us as much as possible to feel his death with the same weight as it has in the context of the story. That’s great directing.

After Pearce’s death, Jeremy Renner takes over, along side Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty as the other two team members of the team. Renner’s style is decidedly different from that of Pearce and it initially creates a good deal of tension in the team because of his apparent lack of caution. In the opening of the film there is a quote that reads in part, “war is a drug,” but, honestly, I really don’t think that’s the driving force behind Renner. In the mini-series Band of Brothers, Matthew Settle plays the lieutenant Ronald Spiers who tells one of his men that the only way he can be a truly effective soldier is if he realizes that he’s already dead. That is my read on Renner. Only by abandoning the illusion that he’s doing a job that he’s going to survive can he give himself and his skills completely over to the task at hand: diffusing bombs. Caution, in wartime, can only be a hindrance.

The Hurt Locker is a film, like the best of war films, that rises beyond jingoism and political patriotism to examine the mortal peril that the soldier lives with every day, every hour, every minute of their existence in the field. This film is especially powerful because of the anonymity of the enemy. Granted, the enemy is Middle Eastern, and the men and women fighting there for the most part weren’t. Still, there is a palpable lack of uniform, of identification, of any way at all to know who the enemy really is. The bombs are just one aspect of this. Another is the battle scene in the desert, shooting at the enemy from eight hundred yards or more, in many cases through a shimmer of heat, in the middle of nowhere. There are no “front lines.” Instead, there is total immersion.

It’s difficult to watch a film about the Iraq war that was make while the war was still in progress. It’s difficult to watch soldiers in harm’s way, who made the sacrifice to participate in a war that had little justification and almost no real impact on the safety of the United States or the world. It’s difficult to watch soldiers die in vain for a war that was begun by a president who, in the long tradition of Republican presidents, lied to the American people and the world in order to justify his own personal agenda. Thankfully, Bigelow’s own bookend to this film is Zero Dark Thirty, in which the end of the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks is taken on in similar fashion. There’s little else to say, except that The Hurt Locker was absolutely deserving of the Oscar for best picture.

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