Friday, May 29, 2015

The Hurt Locker (Best Picture 2009)

The Hurt Locker is a gray, depressing film about three men in a bomb disposal unit stationed in Iraq in 2004. Filmed in Jordan, close to the actual Iraqi border, its extras were predominantly Iraqi refugees.

The story follows three soldiers: Sgt 1st Class James, Sgt Sanborn, and Specialist Eldridge. James, played by Jeremy Renner, takes over command of the squad after their initial commander is killed (in the first tense ten minutes of the film). Sanborn, played by Anthony Mackie, is second in command. He does not appreciate what he considers James' unprofessional attitude, such as taking off his headset while out on a mission These two are in conflict for the majority of the film, as Sanborn is afraid of getting killed due to James' negligence. He (and we) eventually learn that James is reckless, but only when it comes to his own safety. Brian Geraghty plays the gun-man, the youngest member of the sqaud. He serves as the "eyes" of the audience, representing us by asking "why?" and by being nervous when things don't seem to be going the way he thinks that they should. The majority of the story is centered on how these three men interact with each other, and what they do to try to get back to the US alive.

There is no real plot. There are only events during their time in Iraqi. Once they run into snipers in the middle of the desert. Once they raid an abandoned apartment complex and recover a cache of stolen US bomb equipment. Once they go into the city at night to help analyze an explosion, only to get sucked into a cat-and-mouse hunt for the bombers.

The first problem I had with this film was that I could not always tell who was who. Sanborn is Black (one of the few Black men in the film) so it was always easy to pick him out of the three. James and Eldridge, however, when they were in full military gear, looked exactly the same. Maybe because I don't know enough military stuff, and I couldn't tell the difference in their suits as to which was a commanding officer and which was a grunt. Worse yet, when they did take their gear off I couldn't follow what had happened to who, so I was confused a few times in a few scenes. For example, I couldn't tell if it was Eldridge or James when we first see one of them talking to a counselor. And I couldn't tell if it was James or Eldridge hanging around the base, making friends with an Iraqi boy. An establighing shot of them taking their helmets off, or more close-ups so we could actually tell which dusty white guy in fatigues we were watching would have helped. As it was, it was difficult to care about them because I couldn't tell who was who!
So is that James, or Eldridge? 
Speaking of which, there is a scene where James believes that his young frined has been killed and tortured (in a truly disturbing scene). We believe it too, because he believes it. Later, the boy returns, obviously very much alive. What are we supposed to make of this? Is the moral of the story that all Iraqi boys look alike? Or is it, don't befriend the natives because they are doomed to be collateral damage? (if so, that's a stretch). Or is it something else? I was confused by that whole sequence, especially as it had affected James so badly. Then he just sort of shrugged it off, and left the boy alone after that. It was weird.

So there wasn't a whole lot of character development. In fact, you could argue that none of the three are any different at the end of the film compared to how they were when it started.

There are a lot of tense moments in this film....debombing a rigged car, confronting an innocent man strapped with explosives, finding an octopus-like linked explosive device....yet, oddly, I never felt as if anything would actually happen to the leads. Maybe because James' immediate predecessor dies in the first ten minutes? However, as soon as Eldridge's counselor decides to go on a ride-along with them, I knew something would happen to HIM. In that sense, I never forgot that I was watching a scripted movie.

Likewise, I never understood the characters. Eldridge was "the young one." Sanborn was the "by the book one." James was the "wild one." But what made them tick? Why were they there? And in James' case, why does he go back? He tells his son, "There is only one thing I have ever loved." And then he is shown back in Iraq. Is it the adrenaline? The duty? The freedom to face death? It's not clear, and it's a major drawback to the film. This is like a documentary of some time spent in Iraqi, and then it is over. Real life doesn't necessarily have a deep meaning, but a movie with no real plot or character development isn't much of a movie.

Lastly, we never learn what a "hurt locker" is. I thought maybe it was the foot locker that James keeps under his bed, filled with all of the detonators that he has deactivated. However, after doing a little bit of research for this review, I learned that the term is evidently military slang for "pain." It's kind of a mistake to name a story after something that is never referenced or explained in the story , don't you think? I certainly do.

To sum up: this movie wasn't made for audience members like me. If you like war movies, you will probably like The Hurt Locker. If not, you probably won't.
The main actors, all cleaned up 
The Hurt Locker won six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay. Jeremy Renner was nominated for Best Actor, but lost to Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart. Kathryn Bigelow is the first woman director to win Best Director, so that is quite an accomplishment. Coincidentally, one of the men she beat for the prize was her former husband, James Cameron, who was nominated for Avatar.

The Hurt Locker
*Academy Award Best Picture of 2009*
Produced by Kathryn Bigelow, Mark Boal,
Nicolas Chartier, and Greg Shapiro
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Screenplay by Mark Boal

If you are not a war film type of person,
this trailer is basically all you need to watch. 

Also Nominated:
(in alphabetical order)
The Blind Side
District 9
An Education
Inglourious Basterds
Precious: based on the novel PUSH by Sapphire
A Serious Man
Up In The Air
From this year, the Academy expanded the number of Best Picture nominees from five to ten. Unfortunately, that makes it more likely that some were seriously forgotten. Of course, Avatar was the million-dollar computer graphic film that I refused to see. "White Man's Burden," anyone? No thanks. The Blind Side was criticized for being something similar, just "White WOman's Burden." Sandra Bollock won Best Actress for her role as the adopted mother of a Black football player. District 9 was the South African Sci-Fi film about what happens when aliens crash-land on Earth and have nowhere else to go. Precious was the modern day Cinderella story starring Gabourey Sidibe as an overweight teenaged girl trying to escape poverty. Mo'nique won Best Supporting Actress for her role in this film. Inglourious Basterds is Quentin Tarentino's fantasy about World War II. Christoph Waltz won Best Supporting Actor for his role in this film. A Serious Man is the story of a lonely college professor in the Sixties, played by Colin Firth. Up is the Pixel animated film with Ed Asner as an old man who refuses to sell his house to a corporate giant. Up In The Air is the George Clooney drama about the man whose job it is to fire people after corporate take-overs. And An Education? Never even heard of it.

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