Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Hurt Locker

(Kathryn Bigelow, 2009)
To Siue's protest that the world already has too many war films that focus on the American GI's point of view, I replied that this film takes that warhorse places that I've never seen it go before. Without that defining perspective, how else could Bigelow portray the psychology of war in which everyone, and everything, becomes an enemy - not just the curious and unknowable locals, but a cell phone, an illegally parked car, a herd of sheep, a pile of garbage, even their army's own shitty equipment? When Jeremy Renner drops the tear gas on his first assignment, it looks like he's committing suicide, but here again we have a window on an essential theme - the tension between the need for fellow soldiers to act in a predictable and regimented way, and the need to retain your status as an individual. At first Renner is as remote as the locals, but there's a slow reversal - starting with an admiring, smirking colonel miles crazier than he is, continuing as the seemingly rock-steady Anthony Mackie reveals the cracks in his own stability, and culminating in the Aguirre-like desert siege where Renner holds everything together and becomes the central character once and for all. Having taken center stage, the movie becomes his personal psychodrama as he seeks the killers of a kid he thinks he knows - it's when he tries to be a hero that we can see the hopelessness of the situation. The only way to survive is to keep your humanity in check, and it's damn hard, because these characters are nothing if not human. The chaos and despair are so powerful and so felt that the final scenes feel a little too pat, too obvious in their meaning; but even there we have an unforgettably displaced supermarket-as-nightmare sequence, and anyway the message is urgent enough to merit a double underline.

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