Thursday, December 31, 2009

Recent Failures

From an unfinished review of The Hurt Locker for The Auteurs' Notebook, June:

The Hurt Locker is a good suspense movie. 50 years ago, it would've been set in backlot Morocco, and we would've had fezzes, hookah smoke, misunderstandings, marketplaces. Now it's built-on-location Iraq (built, in this case, in Jordan), and we have the dusty browns and greens, the grim stares, the menacing locals, the distant minarets. There's even a chase down an alley. Some good shots, very cleverly done: the sapper engulfed in smoke as he slowly falls; the man who, pulling on a wire, discovers that he is surrounded by explosives that had been hidden beneath a thin layer of sand; two soldiers imagining, in grisly detail, their comrade's death as he goes to retrieve his gloves from the site of a controlled explosion; the rifle that jams because the bullets are covered in blood; a fly landing on a sniper's unblinking eye; a spent cartridge tumbling to the ground, the slow motion giving it a deathly weight. But what else?

Well, a good-natured jackass (Jeremy Renner) comes to lead a three-man bomb squad after the death of his predecessor (Guy Pearce, homoncular as ever). He's one of director Kathryn Bigelow's beloved hotheads, and of course there's a cool ex-intelligence officer (Anthony Mackie) to oppose him. It's all "apolitical," which is a nice way of saying that it's the same old "look at how Our Boys are suffering" nonesense, the same final shot -- walking towards the camera to some generic hard rock -- as every military recruitment video. Between that set-up and that ending, The Hurt Locker has neither sympathy nor empathy -- just psychology. A little case study made with those hand-held Super 16mm cameras familiar to anyone who's seen an American film about Iraq (we no longer even need to preface that word with "the war in;" in America, the only Iraq that exists is the one where bombs go off on the roadside). There are those images that flutter, as if trying to get away from the Big Issue: war.

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