Jul 28, 2009

The Hurt Locker, Movie Review

sand-colored cat

The Hurt Locker: 4
(on a scale of 1 low to 4 high )

In this study of a U.S. Army bomb squad in Iraq in 2004, director Kathryn Bigelow grabs us by the throat in the first few minutes and never lets go. I find myself tempted to say this is the best war movie I’ve ever seen, though spending much thought on art as a competition can become as wrong-headed as the Oscars are. So I'll just say I don’t remember feeling any more involved in the elite films of this genre—for example, Apocalypse Now, Deer Hunter, Platoon—than I was during Hurt Locker.

Original but not self-conscious in technique, the action scenes, along with the landscape of a distressed city and its inhabitants, feel absolutely immediate and real. Ditto the desert scenes. There is some gore, though not the mindless exploitation of it that I've come to expect in action movies. More prominent is the interplay among the three main characters, which poses important questions about leadership, friendship, recklessness and responsibility, courage, grace under pressure, loyalty, obedience, heroism, the independent personality--and, always one of my favorites: when and how a character can seem both arrogant and sympathetic.

Toward the end of the movie, I find two problems, neither of them fatal. First, there are indications of the probable outcomes of two of the three main characters. Why not the third, who might be the noblest of the group? Did I miss a line?

Secondly, there’s a bit of drift toward didacticism, or at least summarizing. However, it is fairly well controlled, never develops into full-blown propaganda, lasts for only five or ten minutes, and doesn’t even begin to override the method that has dominated: action, and imagery, and characters revealing themselves without a lot of instruction from the script on how we should feel or what we should think.

If you assume this will be, or should be, a facile anti-Bush or “War is Hell” flick, stop supposing and go see an admirable effort to avoid both glorification and condemnation. The Hurt Locker is closer to work than play for an audience; good art requires more effort and attention than entertainment does. But see it anyway. It's a disturbing wealth of visual and psychological experience, concerning some of humanity's oldest, most troubling themes.


Unknown said...

Excellent review, Banjo, insightful, and especially, artfully written!

Just one question, to pick at a nit: in the last paragraph you shift from "assuming" to "supposing". Might that be significant?

Banjo52 said...

Thanks, Berol. Not sure about "assume" and "suppose." What do you have in mind?

By the way, Berol, and everybody, there's some interesting info about this movie on Wikipedia. Not a lot of relevance to my post, except to say I'm hardly the only person who's been impressed.

And this is Mr. Boal's FIRST screenplay! Wow.

PJ said...

I just finished my 3rd viewing via Netflix - one with commentary. The first viewing I found myself wondering why there weren't more dishes to shove in the dishwasher. Finally, I settled down to it, it's truly compelling and I've been a Bigelow fan for a while so if someone has to win the Oscar it might as well be her. Rather, it should be her.

Banjo52 said...

Paula, I would not fight you on that. It's now March 3, 2010. I've seen about half the nominees and nothing jumps out at me as superior to her or this movie. I taped her Feb. 28 interview on 60 minutes, but haven't watched it yet. Looking forward . . .

PJ said...

I saw that and you'll enjoy it, she's earned her bragging rights.

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