Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Because Reality TV is Lame

The Hurt Locker
- Out on DVD/Blu-ray now!

by Mark Metcalf //

Kathryn Bigelow directs films that a man should direct. That’s wrong. She directs films that you would expect a man to direct, but she directs them even better.

The protagonist of The Hurt Locker is an arrogant, self-involved soldier just dying to be a hero. Bigelow looks at that directly; does not comment on it, does not shy away from it, any more than she shies away from the war he is involved in. And I think she comes away from the experience of directing this film understanding that it may just take that kind of person to fight a war like this, a war that probably should not be fought at all.

The war is Iraq. The year is 2004. It is the year in which four Blackwater “contractors” were killed, mutilated and burned, and then dragged through the streets and hung from a bridge for everyone to view. It is the year in which the United States lost its 1,000th soldier to violent death in that war. The story centers on Staff Sgt. William James who takes over the EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) unit in Bravo Company. Disarming an IED (Improvised Explosive Device), as you can imagine, is the most dangerous job in war. James loves his job. He puts his partners’ lives at more risk than necessary because he loves his job so much. He leaves his wife and his infant son to go back to Iraq for more. But he is much more than an adrenaline junkie who likes to risk his life. He is a man who chooses death over life. Certainly the possibility of death.

Bigelow’s camera and editing, her absolute concentration on the task at hand, with no obvious showboating, takes you on an extremely visceral ride. I think a male director might have let us know that he was there; would have removed us, and himself from the experience by taking the god position. Bigelow puts the camera right inside the helmet of Staff Sgt. James as he approaches an IED. She faces it directly with little or no ego other than what we imagine it must take to do the job at hand.

It is a remarkable war movie, although, I think it is a little patchwork in its story telling. There is an attempt to fill it with as many of the experiences of that war as possible. But one of those extra scenes, in the desert, when the EOD team has to transform itself into a sniper team, and Bigelow again allows us to experience the long agonizing wait, in the sun, with total stillness, and the purest concentration on the task at hand that I have ever seen in a film, while one sniper team waits until the other makes the mistake of motion so that they can be seen and killed. That scene may be the best one in the film. But somehow it is extraneous to the primary story.

The film follows the time-tested path of the “war movie,” with a scene of action followed by a scene of introspection followed by another scene of action. It executes those scenes with a certainty, and intelligence, and a desire to see the truth that has been rare in films about the endless war in Iraq. However, because it lacks originality in its structure it is not a great film, but it is the best war movie I have seen since A Walk In the Sun.


Anna Krutzik said...

Mark, I love your review of the film. It definitely makes me want to experience this movie (as I am sad to say I haven't seen it yet).

However, saying that Kathryn Bigelow directs movies like a man? Ummm...that is a little sexist, Mark. As a women director myself, I take offense. Can't she just direct a good movie?

Anyway, we can discuss this later if need be. Welcome to the blog!

Mark Metcalf said...

I actually said that she directs films that a man "should" direct and promptly corrected myself to say that she directed films that you would "expect" a man to direct. I was trying to highlight the fact that we all participate in gender bias the same way we participate in racism and that language is one of the most correctable aspects of behavior and we should, as my mother would have said, watch our language.

Anna Krutzik said...

I know you meant well, but it still sounds bad.