Saturday, September 5, 2009

Hurt Locker (2008)

I remember reading a post-modernist pop-cultural mishmash, called "Heroes" by the Spanish author Ray Loriga back in college. The book was full to the brim with references to popular movies, musicians, and artists. The title of the book was a David Bowie song. The narrator / protagonist / "experiencer" was a huge fan of Kathryn Bigelow and, in particular, her 1995 film, Strange Days. It was quite refreshing that an obscure Spanish novella made references to a mildly successful sci-fi extravaganza. The fact that Bigelow was namechecked is proof enough of her subtle but concrete place in modern cinema and pop culture in general: Near Dark (1987) is probably still the most interesting twist on the vampire genre; Point Break (1991) still dazzles with its subtle homoerotic touches; Strange Days remains one of the most original sci-fi films of the 90s. There have been duds too: K19: Widowmaker or The Weight of Water come to mind. Her latest effort, though, is her best.

Hurt Locker is a different beast to all the other Iraq- or Middle East-themed movies of the last few years. Rather than forcibly proselytizing people with liberal talking heads, Bigelow takes us to the centre of the conflict and makes her point without actually preaching. We follow a bomb disposal unit, roaming the streets of Baghdad detonating IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices). There isn't a plot per se and the time frame (counting down the days until the next rotation) only adds a little salt to the drama. It is episodic in structure and it doesn't have an arc. In fact, we end up pretty much where we start. Shot in a docu-reality style, this is probably the best use of shaky-camera ever. You are aware of it, but it soon becomes part of the film itself and you forget about it.

Jeremy Renner (easily the best thing from 28 Weeks Later) gives an impressive performance as the reckless Staff Sergeant William James. Anthony Mackie and Brian Gerarghty complete the unit. Along the way there are blink-and-you-miss-it cameos from Guy Pearce, David Morse, Evangeline Lilly, and Ralph Fiennes. It is to Bigelow's credit that none of these big names gobble up the story (much like Terence Malick's The Thin Red Line).

Hurt Locker is, in my opninion, the best film of the year so far. It is mature, tense, brilliantly-acted, and very poignant. Having read somewhere that James Cameron likened this to Platoon, I will go one further by claiming it to be one better. This truly goes up to eleven.

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