Monday, August 31, 2009

The Hurt Locker Review

I admit I broke the law back in January. I caught a screening of The Hurt Locker on my computer, illegally through a pirated screener. The clarity was a little off, and I watched the second half before realizing that I never caught the first half. So I ended up watching it via a Blair Witch-type recording and a Memento-esque perspective.

That being said, it was one of my favorite movies of the year.

Then, on Saturday, I was able to watch it on the local (and legal) multiplex. I didn’t realize what I was missing without the clarity and correct aspect ratio.

The film follows an EOD (explosive ordinance disposal) unit in 2004 Iraq. Sgt. JT Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Spec. Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) just lost their team leader to an explosion and get a brand new one in SSgt. Will James (Jeremy Renner).

Sanborn and Eldridge have their own reasons of trepidation when it comes to their brash new team leader. Sanborn prefers the communicative style of their former boss, while Eldridge can’t get over the fact that he is the reason his team leader is dead. Not to mention, the fact that he is sure he is going to die in Iraq.

James meanwhile, is there to stop bombs and is indifferent to the feelings or procedures for which his teammates are used to. His job is to difuse bombs and he loves his job…death be damned.

The thing that makes SSgt. James great is the fact that he should be this plays-by-nobody’s-rules-but-his-own cliché. But the screenplay never lets him get to that point. He never craves the spotlight after difusing the latest situation. Instead, he goes to his spot in the humvee and lights up a Marlboro light. Even when a Colonel (David Morse) confronts James about the latest bomb diffusal, he almost orders him to tell him what a badass he is.

Sanborn gets highly irritated by James, even to the point of suckerpunching him after a job. Eldridge doesn’t show much emotion one way or the other towards James; he’s too worried talking with the base psychologist Col. John Cambridge (Christian Camargo) about his mortality.

The tipping point comes when the squad goes into the desert for some good ole’ exploding. SSgt. James stops Sanbord at the last second and goes down next to the explosives where he “forgot” his gloves. Sanborn and Eldridge talk about “accidentally” detonating the explosives with James down there, while James sends jovial waves back up the hill. Was it a test, or was James really that inept where he left his gloves next to an explosive ordinance?

Either way, the three continue on and come on a contractor (Ralph Fiennes) and his team. Everything is going fine until a sniper kills one of the contractors. The Iraqis kill two others, including Fiennes, forcing Sanborn to step up and take over the sniping raines. Sanborn turns out to be a crack shot with James as his spotter. Aldridge helps out as well by shooting a flanking enemy.

That night, all three get drunk and wrestle.

All of this shows us how differently all three deal with the rigors and stress associated with going to war. SSgt. James shows little to no emotion, Spec. Aldridge shows nothing but emotion, while Sgt. Sanborn is somewhere in between.

The thing the film, director Katherine Bigelow and writer Mark Boal do so well is present a story, without any bias either way towards the war. It looks almost like a documentary, with its visual style and general story telling. The two main people to applaud with the look of this film is Bigelow, who has stepped her game up after box office fare like Point Break or K-19:The Widowmaker, and cinematographer Barry Ackroyd. I’m not sure if Bagdahd and Jordan (where filming took place) is really that desolate and undesirable, but Ackroyd sure does his best to make it seem that way.

The actors are cast to perfection, going for the right actors instead of the big names. Renner has being toiling around in small roles for a while, finally getting his break here. He makes the most of it with his nuanced portrayal of a veteran who doesn’t get bogged down in the small things, like death. Mackie’s career has been along the same lines, save for a small role in the Oscar-winning Million Dollar Baby and as Tupac Shekur in Notorious. He doesn’t have the showiest role, but really makes it count with a monologue in the final act of the film. Geraghty gets his second Iraq War credit after Jarhead. Though not even close to the same role, Geraghty is the character the audience can relate with best, but he is still a little uneven. Bit players Guy Pearce, Evangeline Lilly, Morse and Finnes all do a fine job with little screen time.

Bigelow’s ex-husband James Cameron said that this film will be for the Iraq War what Platoon was for the Vietnam War. I disagree. This film will be for the Iraq War what All Quiet on the Western Front was for World War I. More tragic without the political landscape.

Grade: A-

Oscar Possibilities:
-Best Picture
-Best Director, Katherine Bigelow
-Best Actor, Jeremy Renner
-Best Supporting Actor, Anthony Mackie
-Best Supporting Actor, Brian Geraghty
-Best Original Screenplay
-Pretty much all technical categories

Back to Work

It's been a long summer, but I'm going to get back into the swing of things after a long hiatus.

I have new updated Oscar predicitions on the bar to the right, including changes reflecting the move to 10 Best Picture nominees. I'll have some updated articles as well, including my review of The Hurt Locker, Up and my thoughts on the current Oscar race.

Stay tuned in the next few days.