Monday, December 07, 2009

The Hurt Locker

"I hurt myself today to see if I still feel, I focus on the pain, the only thing that's real..." Johnny Cash

When they announced several weeks ago that the Academy in increasing the number of Best Picture nominees from five to ten, I, as a movie lover and sometimes critic, had the same question about 2009... "Is there enough quality films to fill all ten spots?  Or will spots 8,9 and 10 just be something popular that they had to add in to take up the extra space?"

Well, my guess is that one film that will be there, and would have been there regardless of the five or ten movie limit, even if this film had been released in the vaunted 1993 Great Year At the Movies...

SIDEBAR... I've heard that the year 1939 is considered the best year in film, all time.  Its not surprising, because the list of movie classics--movies that to this day, people are still relishing--is long and heavy... in 1939, there was "Gone With the Wind"... "The Wizard of Oz"... "Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs"... "Stagecoach"... "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington"... "Gunga Din"... "Goodbye Mr. Chips"... and the original "Of Mice and Men".  That is a Murder's Row of timeless cinema.

I've also heard that 1993 is a considerable heavyweight when it comes to film.  Perhaps because I was 17/18 at the time, aware of the impact of movies in my own life that 1993 probably resonates more... consider this list of movies that came out in 1993... "Schindler's List"... "The Fugitive"... "Groundhog Day"... "In the Name of the Father"... "The Piano"... "Philadelphia"... "In the Line of Fire"... "Dave"... "Sleepless in Seattle"... "Dazed and Confused"... "Tombstone"... "The Nightmare Before Christmas"... "Short Cuts"... "Jurassic Park"... this year alone constitutes 7 films in The Dave100.  

Don't know if this is the best year in film or not... but it has to come darn close.  Just sayin'.

Where was I?

Yeah... "The Hurt Locker". 

Been hearing about this film since late summer, directed by Kathryn Bigelow, probably most famous for Keanu "I AM AN EFF BEE EYE AGENT!" Reeves in "Point Break", and wanted to see it.  I'm really wary about recent war films, as a few of them have come off very anti-Our Guys and anti-Our Country, so I usually stay away.  And, I think everyone else stays away too, as "In the Valley of Elah", "Stop-Loss", "Redition" (which is a waste of my beloved Reese Witherspoon) and "Lions for Lambs" were all disasters at the box office, commonly known as "bombs".  I've only seen one of the previous movies mentioned, and it was pretty terrible. 

I kept looking for "The Hurt Locker" here in Birmingham, but never saw it.  There's a few big theaters around, and perhaps it made it in and out before I knew it, but one day I saw it advertised at the Ghetto Theater for a buck.  Called up my Ghetto Theater Buddy Mikey and said, "Hey, let's go see it!" and he said, "Yeah, dog" and so we did.  We met up with our friends Jimmy B and The Good Doctor Earl, and settled back in chairs that were probably filled with H1N1, the Avian Flu, lice, gingivitis and clamidia, all at the same time. 

"The Hurt Locker" is about a group of solders in Iraq that disarm Improvised Explosive Devices, or IEDs, which are really just like they sound--simply made bombs that are triggered by tripwires, or remotes or whatever, made to kill people, namely American soliders. 

After the Spc. Eldridge and Sgt. Sanborn's team leader, Sgt. Thompson, is killed by an IED, SSgt James is brought in to replace him.  James and Thompson are miles apart, with Thompson exact, careful, precise and always putting safety first, while James is borderline reckless, approaching the IEDs with a devil-may-care attitude, alienating Eldridge and Sanborn with his style and his lack of discipline.  Still, James is very, very good at what he does.

One of the most chilling scenes is when they run upon a sniper attack, and after they return fire and hunker down, the waning minutes turns into hours, as they sit, hiding, afraid to move, trying to take out the snipers before they get hit themselves. 

I've never been at war.  I've never been shot at.  I've never worn the gear of the military, so I cannot tell you that this movie does or does not correctly identify what these soldiers go through, every day, with IEDs just stuck everywhere from random rubble on the roadside to being surgically implanted in the stomachs of small children.  Not kidding.

There are three main reasons why I thought this film was brilliant... first, the lack of superstars helps this movie quite a bit.  No Tommy Lee Jones, no Jake Gyllenhaal, no Jamie Foxx... only a cameo appearance by Kate from Lost, Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes and That Guy Hall of Famer David Morse, but beyond that, its starring no one you'd recognize.  Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty have been in other stuff, but you likely won't remember much of it.  Taking away this stardom almost makes this feel like its a documentary more than anything else, like what you are seeing on screen is actually happening 5,000 miles and a half-dozen time zones away--maybe because it is. 

Secondly, its not preachy.  Anyone who has read this site enough will know I'm not into being preached at by films that are supposed to entertain.  It doesn't dive into politics, into why we are there, why we are or are not winning or losing the war, or anything else.  It just tells its story.

Finally... its just a really good movie.  Its a movie about war, so none of the language is Emmy Turnbow Safe, and it does have its bloody moments, but its paced well, it doesn't veer into subplots (much... there is one small one, but it resolves itself quickly) and after its over, you just nod your head and say, "That's a good movie."

Its hard to imagine that this movie might win the Best Picture, as its not flashy and the marketing machine of Hollywood hasn't taken this film to new heights, but as far as quality, its one of the best films I've seen all year... certainly better than "Slumdog Millionaire". 

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