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The Hurt Locker Screenshot

We watched this one together and then headed out to get a drink because we needed to defuse after the high intensity experience! This movie has that much heart pounding, pulse racing, adrenaline coursing action. At some points, we were practically begging for some kind of low key scene to just loosen up, let out a breath and unclench muscles. This is an unusual war movie for at least two reasons – one, it focuses on process, what the soldiers do in the field and how they go about it, rather than a higher calling or the politics of war. Secondly, it is made by a woman – director Katherine Bigelow seems in her element. It is a huge surprise to see a woman have such complete command over such a macho, muscular movie! Pan, having seen a retrospective of Bigelow’s work recently, had experienced Bigelow’s remarkable mastery over action set pieces but this was my first taste. Well, color me impressed!

The movie doesn’t really have a plot – often a good thing for us! It tracks the life of three members of an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) squad in Iraq whose job it is to deal with/disarm improvised explosive devices (IED) which are homemade bombs that are hidden in public places. The three men are a study in contrasts – Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) is jumpy, nervous and verging on PTSD, Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) works by by-the-book with discipline, caution and a strong sense of duty and James (Jeremy Renner) is the “wild man”, the loose cannon. Although all three are excellent and get almost equal screen time, the movie belongs to Renner. This is a terrific performance veering from arrogant, cocky, dangerous and detestable, to decisive, courageous, empathetic and tender even. The James character craves danger above all else and to him war is a drug. We get that even without Bigelow’s exposition illuminating the character’s motivation.

Where Bigelow slips up a bit is in depicting the motivation of the three principal characters. It seems like a cliché but you get the impression that depicting emotion and motivation is not Bigelow’s strength. Instead of letting that play out through the characters’ actions, we get heavy handed dialogue. My view was that perhaps Bigelow doesn’t trust in the audience’s intelligence while Pan felt that she isn’t confident in her own ability to depict the inner workings of people’s minds without obvious props. Given that Pan has seen a lot more of Bigelow’s work, that’s probably the better explanation – also the more charitable one 😉 . These are minor quibbles however, as the movie is an action fest and psychological explorations are few and far between.

The movie plays out like an amped up, realistic video game with awesome special effects and I think there is a real business opportunity there! However, it also begs the question of how fact and fiction are melded. The James character in particular seems very much the sort of renegade who is a staple of the movies. Would someone with such disdain for authority last very long on the field? In an area where life and safety are predicated on discipline, sticking to a chain of command and trusting other specialist units to do their job, this sort of characterization makes for a fun adventure on screen but perhaps a poor depiction of real life. At any rate, for the two hours or so we were transformed into action junkies and were happy to let some of the questions of realism slide.

Pan-Card: B+             Scorn-Card: A- 

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