War Is Hell
THE HURT LOCKER (2008/DVD) Let me start by saying that I don’t like war movies. World wars, Civil wars, Vietnam, no thank you. I see enough of that on the news. What drew me to The Hurt Locker was its director. Much has been made about this tough movie being directed by a woman, and it is notable that there isn’t a single second of this movie that could be described as feminine. I already assumed that Kathryn Bigelow must be pretty damn ballsy (and possibly have some judgement issues?) because she was married for a time to Oscar competition and noted flaming A-hole James Cameron. (She also directed guiltiest of guilty pleasures, Point Break, which forever secures her a slot on my All Awesome team.) And in a year where I keep hearing about how Nancy Meyers makes “movies for women” it is extremely satisfying to watch Bigelow do basically the exact opposite.
This movie’s subject matter is rough and jarring. I was physically uncomfortable the entire time I was watching it, and am nervous still just thinking about it. It focuses on a small team of soldiers in Baghdad in 2004 who specialize in defusing bombs. Three men in varying states of traumatic stress disorder drive from nightmare to nightmare through a sea of nightmares, pretty much. While the movie’s action is often chaotic and confused, the visual style is steady and quiet, allowing the tension of every mission to be conveyed by the actors’ facial expressions, shaking hands, and sweating bodies. Bigelow doesn’t impose much commentary on the politics of this war, but simply presents the daily work of these three soldiers and allows us to draw whatever horrifying conclusions we choose. The main character is team leader and capital B Badass Sergeant William James, whose laser focus when tracking bombs often puts him at odds with his team. The Oscar hype that surrounded Jeremy Renner’s performance as Sgt. James late last year is entirely justified (though it’s looking like this year belongs to The Dude). The character is complicated and conflicted, at times noble and others reckless with the lives in his command, possibly driven by ego more than sense of duty, smart and talented, but also misguided and mistaken. Unlike the soldiers around him, who count each day that they manage not to die as one day closer to going home, James is more comfortable when he’s staring into a device designed to kill him than he is as a father and husband back home. (Although, I’d re-enlist too if this was waiting at home for me. Can I get a hell yeah, Lost fans?)
This could easily have been a one-dimensional action movie or an overwrought Important Statement about war. It isn’t, although it doesn’t shy away from portraying the confusion and general hopelessness involved in the military presence in Iraq. The plot doesn’t follow any standard pattern. Instead, the gut-wrenching suspense of the movie comes from the audience’s total investment in these very real and well-established characters. So, refreshingly, the gender of the director makes no difference — this movie would have scared the shit out of me either way. It will now be added to the list of Great Movies I Will Never See Again Due To Total Terror.