Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Hurt Locker

I've finally gotten around to watching The Hurt Locker today, and must now adjust my top 10 films list accordingly. The Hurt Locker is an amazing movie primarily because it's the sort of movie that we don't make anymore. I have been watching many movies form the WWII era recently and was noticing a tendency for there to be films that focused solely on a company of men doing their job outside of the politics of the war. These were just men at war wanting to get home. Movies like The Story of G.I. Joe, A Walk in the Sun, Sahara, and In Which We Serve really highlighted the humanity of the everyman soldier. Though In Which We Serve is something of a British propaganda piece, on the whole these movies were more concerned with the guys than the situation they were fighting in. And I wondered why we don't make movies like that anymore, movies whose primary focus is on the camaraderie of the men and the horror of war. Saving Private Ryan came close to this, but still felt the need to hang it on a story about Private Ryan. Most Iraq war films have been motivated by "support our troops! They want to be there!" ideals or "What the frak are we doing here?". The Hurt Locker succeeds by focusing on the work of these bomb specialists and forgetting the rest. In fact, this story could be set anywhere, but it is set in Iraq. The themes are universal.

I am not generally a fan of overly "documentarizing" a movie in the shooting. Too much shaky-cam can ruin a film for me. This is the one thing that made me nervous about the movie, but I think Katheryn Bigelow did a very good job of maintaining a style without going overboard (I'm looking at you, Battlestar Galactica!). The camera stays in with the characters, so that we the audience feel a part of it. And yet the zooming or panning never reaches nausea levels. She wisely also doesn't always have a moving camera. The only time I felt the style was coming on too hard was in a night scene toward the end where every shot was a snap-zoom. But the film moved away from that again, which I was glad of. I also appreciated the bare almost nonexistent musical score. There is one, but it's extremely subtle and mostly kept to tones. I'd estimate only about 20 percent of the movie is scored.

So much of this story could become cliche. The soldier so preoccupied with his own mortality that he acts recklessly, or the commanding officer who butts heads with him, or the army psychiatrist trying to do his job could all be played falsely, but they never are here. Often Bigelow says more with a silent image of a man showering the blood off of him than pages of preachy dialogue could say.

I didn't know what to expect going into this movie. And yet very quickly into the opening sequence, it grabbed me. The film's suspense grabbed me, like The Spiral Staircase did recently. Hitchcock once said that suspense is when there's a bomb under a table and the audience knows it, but you never let it go off or the suspense is destroyed. Yet here there is a film literally built on a series of hidden bombs; Bigelow displays an expert ability in knowing when to blow those bombs and when not to. History is sure to look favorably on this movie. For now it is the definitive film of the Iraq conflict, and should stand in the halls of great war films for generations to come. For now, it lingers in my mind; the resonating expression of the phrase "war is a drug".

With The Hurt Locker to add, I must bump a movie from my top ten list. The revised list is now as follows, in no particular order:
1. Coraline
2. Where the Wild Things Are
3. The Hurt Locker
4. A Serious Man
5. District 9
6. Sherlock Holmes
7. Avatar
8. Up in the Air
9. Fantastic Mr. Fox
10. Star Trek

This bumps Watchmen from the list. I oscillated whether to save it or Star Trek, but I think I had too many issues with Watchmen's gore level ultimately. But hey, if I see something else that's better, I might bump something else. For now, Watchmen joins the group of films just under the cut like The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.

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