Thursday, July 23, 2009


The Hurt Locker (2009)Directed By Kathryn Bigelow

Kathryn Bigelow said she didn't want to make a film that was particularly dramatic or even cinematic, but experiential. She wanted the viewer to feel and experience of what it is like to be a EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) bomb tech in Iraq, and anything else, politics and thematics included would only be a distraction. Which isn't to say The Hurt Locker has no political conscious, it does, but it weaves smoothly in and out of the plot, in lines like, "they changed the name of the base from Camp Liberation, to Camp Victory, they thought it sounded better". to "If he wasn't an insurgent, he is now.", and likewise never serves as a distraction, but as background noise the soldiers, are aware of, but drown out, in order to concentrate on bigger fish. Like "Children Of Men", the film drops us into dangerous situations which erupt mid-conversation and without musical cues, and were left to infer the plot from the surroundings. Though in most of the scenes nothing actually happens the results are electric, because at any moment, were lead to believe, anything really COULD happen. The story revolves around three soldiers all dealing with the extreme emotional stress of defusing road side bombs, the difficulty of knowing which civilians to trust, which to suspect, and whether or not they can afford to look to at each person they meet, soldier, foe, and friend alike, as individuals, when it might be more emotionally prudent to see them all as just parts of the job.Brian Geraghty (who was also in the the first gulf war film "Jarhead") is morbidly fascinated with death and increasingly fragile, while Anthony Mackie places his faith in his duty, by-the-books, and safety first routine, while the new unit commander Jeremy Renner, is "addicted to war"(as the films opening quotations remind us) and more to the point adrenaline. Renner's real risk is a small casual acquaintance of a little boy selling bootleg DVD's and speaking American slang, who appears to have been killed, maybe, so his corpse could be used to smuggle contraband for insurgents. Renner wants revenge, but for who, to whom, and how, are the problem. Renner's doing the most dangerous work in the war, but he's still not experiencing direct combat, and is unable to get the "pay back", the chaos around him seems to demand. This is probably the sea-change aspect of the movie for the genre of war films as a whole. Long gone is the heroic cavalry charge and now gone seems the days of desolate wilderness guerrilla combat, the guerrillas have gone urban now, and like all things urban they have little to no contact with those they are pitted against in a life and death struggle. A flash of light off of a cell phone and some protrusions in a dirt road are all the sign of attack a soldier might see before disaster, if that, and all the enemy they are confined to do battle with(for EOD techs at least) is a series of wires and inquisitive onlookers (who are either planning to murder them with or just taking videos for Youtube with their cameras). As many a current US general has said, the modern soldier, has to be a peace keeper as much as, if not more so, than a warrior. With no one substantial enemy to fight, paranoia, and feeling's of helplessness and rage, are daily bread for most combatants. The montage just before the last scene, seamlessly juxtaposes images of war, with those of domestic life, in a way that makes it seem only natural for Renner to re-enlist and return, to the only world which makes sense to him. The red wire, and the green wire, are much simpler choices, in their point blank dichotomy, to make than choosing from the rainbow of cereals in the grocery store, for a distant wife, and child who exists mainly as a nostalgic photograph and pang of guilt. "EOD", tech's often joke, stands for Every One Divorced, because of their extremely high divorce statistics, which can only add to the alienation and stress these men face. I once had to put on a suit similar to the one these guys wear, and sit at a desk solving math problems, for a school psychology experiment, to help the designers chart who long it would take for the suits own internal heat and discomfort to effect rational processes. It didn't take long for the sweat to start pouring and plastic visor to get fogged, and I was not in the 100 degree plus heat, defusing live explosives, while under gun fire. All I had to do was remember to carry a one. This is the truly the most dangerous and I would imagine one of the most difficult jobs on earth, and Bigelow invests just enough plot and character to keep things moving, but it's the sheer suspense, and terrifying difficulty of their duties (a real life absurdity worthy of Werner Herzog films) which the film really hangs on. Fracois Truffaut said that "action argues for itself", which is why even the most virulent anti-war films fail, as "might" in, cinematic terms anyway, necessarily equals "right".In The Hurt Locker, there is very little "action", in the traditional sense, even the gun fights are drawn out, ducked behind a trench, sniper affairs. What the film has instead is suspense, which is as new to the traditional cavalry charge, machine gun fueled war films genre as it is, to the lives and expectations, of most soldiers, I wager. Suspense, unlike action doesn't argue for anyone or anything but survival, it's a discombobulating experience for all involved, where the only "victor", is he who doesn't die. The script was based on a collection of stories the author heard while embedded with a EOD team for a few months, and though some seem elaborate all have the jaw shattering ring of truth (the man who had the bomb strapped to him and made to approach soldiers, is one I heard from a few Vet's) I think the best psychological suspense movie about explosives is "Wages Of Fear", but this is a close second, and for a modern war film, it's top marks. This is a new and critical part of what American warfare looks like today, until such a time comes, as soldiers get super-powered GI-Joe strength enhancing robo armor, which a friend of mine who works in high tech gadgets and rocket engineering for companies he wont mention, tells me is actually closer than you would think.

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