Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Hurt Locker

Like the rest of you, I was outraged by this movie! I needed to know: Who hurt this locker, and why?


The Hurt Locker is the latest from the beautiful and talented Kathryn Bigelow, the story of a EOD (explosive ordinance disposal) squad in its final days in Iraq 2004.

Bigelow's catalogue is a mixed bag, delivering an unexpected gem in the early vampire movie Near Dark, and an unexpected stink bomb in the Jamie Lee Curtis/Ron Silver starrer Blue Steel. (Really, that film has a killer cast, great atmosphere, a reasonably promising premise, and yet it's astonishingly bad. It's worth seeing just to try to figure out why.) However, those were quite some time ago and Bigelow hasn't directed much since the high profile bomb K-19: The Widowmaker. (I rather liked that one and thought a number of the critiques were sort of superficial.)

If The Hurt Locker shows anything, it's that Bigelow is supremely confident and competent handling scenes of high suspense. This movie is 80% powered by suspenseful set pieces, as the crew defuses bombs and otherwise engages with hostiles in Iraq. A persistent tension holds these scenes together like glue (without being annoying, as tension can be over a 2-hour-plus period).

Bomb defusing is of course inherently suspenseful, but if it seems like low-hanging fruit, consider all the times it's been done badly, even when it's done once or twice in a film. This film has at least five bomb defusings, each one different from the last, and each one putting you on the edge of your seat.

I almost didn't see this film, since I read a review (from a right-winger) saying that the movie got political at the end, ruining an otherwise good film. In trying to find that review again, I came across a slew of leftist reviews that were alternately pissed at the absence of politics, pissed at the notion that it wasn't political and/or just pissed at the whole war.

I'm happy to report that if you don't bring your political baggage to this movie, you probably won't find it to be especially political. Leave your English degree at home, too, lest you start seeing metaphors for...stuff.

So, beyond the excellent suspense scenes, and the atmosphere of tensions, what else do we have? Well, our three leads are either clich├ęs or archetypes, take your pick. And the last 20 or so minutes, which is meant to give us insight into the main character's psyche--well, really doesn't particularly. I suspect there's an element in here of trying to make a political statement, but it's pretty weak tea. (There's really not much of a political statement you can make when you're dealing with the guys on the ground; war looks the same from there, regardless of politics.)

What else? Well, the whole thing struck me as a little far-fetched. OK, not just a little, a lot. I didn't delve into details on how the EOD squads worked, but--well, these guys didn't seem to be with anyone, to answer to anyone, or even particularly be affected by anything else going on. They just went out to answer bomb threats and then--again weirdly--left the defused ordinance lying around. (I presume for others to clean out, but this was part of the isolation the movie shows.)

In writing this, I stumbled across this interview pointing out some the same issues I had.

OK, so, don't take it like it's supposed to be Michael Yon's blog--though they came awfully close to recreating his classic photo--and don't bring your political baggage and you can have a good time. If you do bring your political baggage, you can probably find support for whatever point-of-view you have if you look hard enough.

The Boy also liked it, though he thinks it won't hold up well. That is, he thinks the immediacy of the Iraq War gives the movie an extra cachet it won't have a few years down the line.

Either way, I hope see more films from Bigelow.


  1. I'm going to see this later this week.

  2. an unexpected stink bomb in the Jamie Lee Curtis/Ron Silver starrer Blue Steel

    You're right, this movie does suck. I watched about half of it last year. Hoo-boy, is it bad. It's true, it seems like it should be good...

  3. Knox, believe it or not, it gets worse.

  4. Hey Jamie Lee Curtis specailized in stinky movies.

    It is after all her birth rite.

    Hey did you hear that Tony Curtis wrote in his new autobiography that he had an affair with Marilyn Monroe and knocked her up when she was married to Arthur Miller and he was married to Janet Leigh and had Jamie Lee as bun in her oven.
    Marilyn lost the baby according to Tony but the story is in today's August 6, 2009 New York Post.

  5. I think it's time for another visit to Toots Shor.

  6. Saw this last night. I thought it was really great, but about 20-30 min. too long. That whole side story with the kid should have been cut.

    But otherwise excellent.


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