Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Movie with Abe: The Hurt Locker

The Hurt Locker
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Released June 26, 2009

There haven’t been many movies made yet about the war in Iraq. Films like “The Lucky Ones” have probed the effects of time in Iraq on soldiers returning home or set action films in the Middle East, like “The Kingdom.” Many, including Michael Moore, have dabbled in theories about false motives for going to war in the first place. Others, like “Taxi to the Dark Side,” have exposed the darker side of the United States’ response to terrorism after the September 11, 2001 attacks. “The Hurt Locker” is the first major release to really explore what life is actually like in on a daily basis for American soldiers serving in Iraq.

This is hardly a revolutionary concept – war movies set in the midst of the conflict. A slew of well-known Vietnam war movies were released in the 1970s, and more recent films like “Platoon” and 2007’s “Rescue Dawn” revisited that era. What’s significant about “The Hurt Locker” is its contemporary relevance. The war in Iraq is a very vivid memory for everyone in the United States, and making a film about it is just as meaningful and important as all of the 1970s Vietnam movies. The most crucial aspect is that “The Hurt Locker” is the first, and – good news – it’s great.

“The Hurt Locker” most resembles Sam Mendes’ 2005 film “Jarhead” in the way that its featured soldiers are rarely involved in traditional frontline combat with the enemy. Instead, they’re holding their ground, making sure that people stay safe. It’s hardly a tranquil environment, as dangerous, deadly bombs are found on a frequent basis and the team is sent in to clear the street and disarm the device. The certainty that the tour of duty won’t go quickly (the soldiers have 39 days left at the start of the movie) makes the experience all the more inescapable. They’re not going anywhere, and they’re determined to defend their territory, but that won’t stop insurgents from trying to kill them each and every day.

Most of the scenes in “The Hurt Locker” go on for an extended period of time, trapping the audience in the moment and driving home just how uncertain and unbearable waiting to outlast an enemy combatant can be. It’s an immensely real film, which doesn’t spare audiences the gritty moments, and its focus on a small unit of soldiers helps to create more emotional connections to the characters and for the viewer to become part of the terrifying experience. The film editing and cinematography are deliberate and sharp, highlighting the intensity of situations and stressing the emotions on the soldiers’ faces. It’s an extraordinarily well put-together film, and each of its 131 minutes takes the viewer deeper and deeper into the minds of these young soldiers thrust into an unknown enemy land.

The performances in this film are all top-notch. Lead actors Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, and Brian Geraghty may not be overly familiar to audiences, but in this case that’s a tremendously good thing. The experience is heightened by the fact that famous actors aren’t popping up at every turn, and the deserted Iraq streets seem all the more horrific and unknown with less recognizable stars at every turn. Fortunately, more familiar faces like Ralph Fiennes, Guy Pearce, David Morse, and Christian Camargo (“Dexter’) fit in just fine, and their minor appearances are nothing short of terrific. Director Kathryn Bigelow, whose most recent major film release is the underrated 2002 thriller “K-19: The Widowmaker,” deserves enormous credit for guiding a fantastic cast and creating one hell of a war movie. It may not features big explosions and loud gunfire like battlefront films, but this is the most powerful film you’re like to see for a while.


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