Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Hurt Locker

Intention is rarely the appropriate substitute for action, but being that I've been just barely surviving the last week or so, I'd been meaning to kick back and relax and watch Kathryn Bigelow's new film about an American elite bomb squad in Baghdad entitled "The Hurt Locker." Despite my initial impressions prior to viewing, and the subsequent buzz the film has received, I didn't have much in the way of expectation going in other than anticipating I'd enjoy it. I'm not sure if it fulfilled that expectation, although I must admit it will be quite some time before -- if ever -- I forget this two-plus-hour first-person visit into war-torn Baghdad.

I won't be delving into the key plot points as there are few thereof and doing so would ruin the visceral experience the film provides. Suffice to say that this film's intent is to allow the viewer a glimpse into a month or two in the life of a unit that is sent out to find and disarm Iraqi IED's (improvised explosive devices) that have claimed so many American soldiers since the US landed in Iraq. Part of the film's intensity, certainly, stems from the fact that bomb diffusal in its very definition is tense, dangerous work. Clip the wrong wire and you'll wind up in hundreds of pieces, as will your colleagues and, likely, any civilians within 100 yards. Add in the element of extreme heat, the weight of anti-explosive gear, the language barrier, fatigue, and being surrounded -- and watched -- by people who may be friends or foes, and the element of tension is ratcheted up tenfold. And while I laud Bigelow's directorial style, the real credit goes to her decision to simply record the action rather than comment on it; the action in this film needs no directorial tweaking or embellishment a la Tarantino or Scorcese. She is able to say everything about the events of this film without really saying anything at all. Put another way, the film succeeds because the inherent intensity is in what's happening, not how it's filmed, and many directors seem to not be able to get out of their own way. Bigelow, in this particular film, didn't have that problem, and the film succeeds as a result.

Beyond the sheer tension and frankness of what the viewer experiences, part of the reason this film succeeds so easily is its soundtrack. I viewed this film in BluRay format, and, for the most part, the picture stays clear. There are parts of the film that are hazy, grainy, dark and/or out of focus -- all in keeping with what's happening with James, Sanborn and Eldridge, the three main characters -- but the sonic landscape of this film is immense and startling. The explosions are front and center and will shake you loose from a comfortable sitting position should your system allow it. Watching this film without a solid sound system will definitely detract from the experience, but it's certainly not a key ingredient to absorbing the entire experience.

While this film, overall, depicts the life of a mobile bomb squad in Baghdad, a large aspect of the film is not simply about portraying the day-to-day activities thereof but to demonstrate how the lives of these men are affected as a result. The three actors -- Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty -- who portray, respectively, James, Sanborn and Eldridge, are excellent in their frank performances. I found myself wondering what I would do in certain situations depicted in the film -- both in combat and out -- and I give credit to these three guys in their ability to seamlessly allow the viewer what feels like an authentic glimpse into something that's actually happening.

In a nutshell, the story, the performances and the dark, intense visceral starkness of the film's pace is not only commended but memorable, haunting and top-notch.

Incidentally, I would urge anyone interested in seeing this film to avoid anything disclosing the cast or any details about it prior to viewing. I can't say I "enjoyed" this film, because it was and remains as frank, dark and disturbing a film about modern war as there may be, including Full Metal Jacket, but a large part of this film's success lies in the not knowing what's beyond the next hill, the next corner or the next half-mile of highway.

Put yet another way, anyone who has an opinion on America's role in Iraq should find a way to see this film, as graphic and disturbing as it is.

And for Kathryn Bigelow -- whose last big project was "Point Break" -- I can only say I'm impressed and am glad I got an opportunity to see this film.

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