Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Hurt Locker

I'm trying not to review movies that I have watched in the past, but rather movies that I just finished watching.  I think that reviewing a movie months or years after the viewing is unfair to the film in question.  I saw The Hurt Locker when it came out on DVD last month, but since it just won Best Picture, I figured it was okay for me to bend the rules and throw my two cents in now.

War movies are, as a genre, a mix of testosterone and malestrogen (the bodily chemical that causes Man Tears).  If you disagree, watch your grandpa's reaction to the end of Saving Private Ryan; when the elderly Matt Damon character is talking to Tom Hanks' grave, I guarantee gramps will be quietly leaking tears made of beer, sweat, and cursing.  The Hurt Locker plays against type by never really having that malestrogen moment, or for that matter, much of anything when it comes to small moments.

Jeremy Renner plays a bomb technician who joins a new company after their friend and bomb technician is killed in action.  Renner plays the new guy entering the established status quo, which consists of a three man team, played by Anthony Mackie, Brian Garaghty, and now Renner.  Renner is a lone wolf who is seemingly oblivious to danger, while his teammates are all too aware of it.  This acts as the main conflict in the film, as Mackie and Garaghty's characters are just trying to survive the remainder of their deployment, while Renner is just interested in defusing bombs, regardless of his own or his team's safety.  Unlike a lot of war films, then, the conflict here is an emotional one between a small group of people.

Renner does a pretty good job as a bomb technician.  Yes, he's overly confident and casual about danger, but I see that as realistic for a character that decides that war isn't dangerous enough, so he decides to defuse homemade bombs.  It's a good thing that Renner's performance is pretty good, since Mackie and Garaghty don't do much with their parts.  Mackie spends most of his screen time scowling and Garaghty might as well have been doing a screen test to play Linus in a live-action "Peanuts" movie.  Neither performance is bad, mind you, but both could have done better.  Both have a moment, though, after the three of them get drunk together that was pretty good.  Renner has one scene in particular where his character shines in a very understated way.  It's a simple scene, featuring him speaking softly to his infant child, trying to articulate why he likes the army and why he feels uncomfortable as a civilian.  It's a simple, understated scene that could easily have been sappy or overblown, but is allowed to be subtle and trust the intelligence of the viewer.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of smaller bits that knock the movie down a few notches for me.  The first is the movie's slogan, "War is a Drug."  Now you know that director Kathryn Bigelow, the director of such subtle masterpieces as Point Break and K-19: The Widowmaker (AKA "Harrison Ford can't do accents"), is going to be using metaphors.    I understand that the movie feels like a grind to watch at times because the soldiers' lives have a lot of boredom and repetition, despite the dangers.  Understanding what the director was going for doesn't mean that I appreciate it, though; it kind of reminds me of Christopher Nolan's Insomnia... yes, it felt like I was suffering from insomnia like Al Pacino, but it doesn't mean I ever want to see the movie again.  There are two other scenes where Renner's character shows his humanity (or, really, one long scene), but when Renner's character slips off the Army base, the purpose of the scene loses its direction and impact.  David Morse's bit part rubbed me the wrong way, too, the way he acted like Flavor Flav to Renner's Chuck D; I think the viewers can figure out that Renner's a "madman," he doesn't need a hype man.  It was nice seeing Guy Pearce and Ralph Fiennes in a decent movie, but their parts were so small that these excellent actors could barely leave an impression.

Overall, the film tries to make some intelligent points about war and the people that choose to be in the Armed Forces.  The movie had some wonderfully eloquent, subtle scenes, but it countered those with ham-fisted metaphors.  Renner was pretty good, but the director didn't get enough out of the supporting cast to fulfill the potential of this well-shot film.


  1. Sorry for the delay in responding to the smack down! Excellent points about the lack of sentimentality in Hurt Locker that makes it a unique war film. I felt the same thing about the repetition - I almost checked my watch about 3/4 through. However, we have to agree to disagree about Mackie. That final monologue and those drunken scenes were excellent, and I didn't find the rest of his performance scowly. However, I won't argue with you about Linus - he was irritating at times. I'm so glad you've reviewed the Best Picture winner as well as Boondock Saints 2. That's what I call a comprehensive site :)

  2. Mackie's best moment was definitely when he was being put to bed, and it was almost enough to make up for an otherwise unimpressive (in my opinion, obviously) performance.

    And any movie review site or blog that covers only the allegedly good stuff is missing out on a lot of fun.