Friday, January 22, 2010

Bigelow Fest: The Hurt Locker

The Hurt Locker is such a good movie that it makes up for every misstep in Bigelow’s career. It plays like a lost Sam Fuller film and coming from me that’s no small praise. Its daring in both the ways it ignores and subverts genre conventions, and its sickening stylistic clarity marks is Bigelow at her best.

It’s one of those movies that hits the ground running. Much has been written about the opening scene, but God damn it’s a beauty, going off with the precision of a Swiss watch fulfilling about fifty different functions at once. Not only does it set up the character dynamics that’ll power the rest of the film, it gives you a rudimentary course in Bomb Design and Army Protocol. It sets up a textbook situation with an IUD then watches as the team tries to disarm it using the play book.

Starting the film with a tutorial is a stroke of genius. Not merely demonstrating just how badly things can go when everything goes “right” but by setting it up so when Remmer’s character starts to improvise and go off manual you know what he’s doing, why it matters, and just how wrong it can go. Not to mention starting with a basic bomb allows us to see how each of the improvisations the crew comes across later complicates things further. In short it lets the movie go off without a single further scene of exposition. Rather then having to explain to us what’s going wrong, we know what’s going wrong. Its one of the boons of treating the audience with intelligence. And in my opinion The Hurt Locker should be taught in every Screenwriting 101 class in the world.

The scripts other stroke of genius is its subversion of the maverick archetype. We’ve seen the character who plays by his own rules in practically every movie ever. Normally though its from the perspective of The Maverick. So when we see Mel Gibson crash his car through the front of a bank and watch all the uniformed officers run for cover. We think “Ha ha what pussies they don’t have the balls Mel has fuck them.”

Hurt Locker expertly portrays just how pants shittingly terrifying it would actually be to work with one of those people. It’s a movie from the perspective of the uniformed cops running for cover. When you’re on a job where literally every assignment can get you killed, rules tend to be there for a reason. And watching Renner cavalierly disregard his own safety and by extension his units, you understand why his partner’s consider fragging him, despite his often brilliant leaps of intuition and insight.

And Christ Bigelow puts you right in the meat grinder scene after scene after scene. Like The Big Red One and Generation Kill, the only films I can think of to compare this one too. There’s no master plot no grand mission. Just these guys waking up in a bad situation every day. Going to sleep then waking up in a worse one. Its one punishing vignette after another, and the best ones particularly one involving Ralph Fiennes, a crew of British soldiers and some unseen snipers, just burn their way into your brain. The only narrative arc is as the film winds its way to the pitch black ephiphany that some people don’t leave hell because they don’t want to.

This film marks Bigelow as one of the sharpest talents working today. Twenty years into her career and it feels like she’s just getting started (Here’s hoping she makes the Triple Frontier before I Escaped From The Taliban) and I don’t mean that as an insult.


The Film Connoisseur said...

Hey 20 years of movie making has to be worth something! Im glad she has matured as a filmmaker, though Id been impressed with her work before (Near Dark, Strange Days) I cant wait to give this one a watch, it seems she has refined herself even further as a filmmaker.

Great review, great to see your Bigelow retrospective end on a high note!

Gore-Gore Girl said...

Nice review. I hear what you're saying about the cinematography. I'm still waiting to find a review that reflects my disappointment with the film - I turned it off halfway through.

Two things I'm happy about: Bigelow got some respect (might be the first woman to get a directing Oscar), and b) she didn't skimp on her trademark homoeroticism. I thought I was watching gay porn at times (no such luck).

MrJeffery said...

great writeup. she did fabulous work on this film. i hope she wins the oscar.

Evil Dead Junkie said...

@ Film Connoisseur: Thanks. Like I said I didn't mean it as Disrespectful. I just mean with Bigelow I feel like the best is yet to come. How many directors twenty years in can you say that about.

@Gore Gore Girl: Yeah the shirtlessdrunkandpunching scene was almost as bad as "Acid In Your Mouth." When they make the porno parody of The Hurt Locker though, I hope they don't change the title.

@Mr. Jeffery: You and me both. Her or QT.

Gore-Gore Girl said...

I particularly liked the straddlingfacewithcrotchandthighs segment of that scene. And the grunting was just the cherry on the cake. If the line"spit and wipe" had been moved to that scene, I would have been very happy indeed.

Roll on This Ain't The Hurt Locker XXX...

Jay Clarke said...

I'm with you 100% here. I was fortunate enough to see this in 2008, and was afraid that it wouldn't get a release because war films had seemingly fallen out of favour with American audiences. Never mind the fact that it is not really a war film at all, that was how the studio would pigeonhole it. Oh boy, am I glad that not only did it get a release in 2009, but it is receiving the credit it deserves!

Adrien said...

I don't agree at all. This movie was uninteresting, had no character development, and went off on tangents that weren't really relevant to anything! The cinematography is great, but that's the only great thing about this movie. How is a movie that basically has no story line or interesting characters going to win Best Pictures?
Would you say Hurt Locker is better then Saving Private Ryan? Really? Because Saving Private Ryan didn't win an Oscar for Best Motion Picture when it was nominated. The Hurt Locker shouldn't even be on the LIST. Horrible...