Saturday, August 01, 2009

A Bomb (in the best sense)

I usually contain my movie notes until my end of year wrap-up (see here and here), but I had to make mention of Kathryn Bigelow's new movie The Hurt Locker, which Jo and I went to see today. Bigelow is probably most famous for directing Point Break, but for me she stands out with Near Dark, the other vampire movie of 1987 (who can tell me what the other one was?). The Hurt Locker stars Jeremy Renner, who we quite liked in the short-lived TV series The Unusuals, as a bomb tech in Iraq. It's been getting great reviews, and with justification, I might add.

I'm not going to go into a lengthy review, but I did want to single out a couple of things that Bigelow did right. At the very beginning of the film, when the first explosion takes place, Bigelow does a very stylized slow motion take that includes a frankly incredible view of some of the road rising into the air, as if on a snare drum. Later in the film, Renner's character makes a decision to go a little bit rogue, sneaking out of camp to investigate the death of someone he allowed himself a moment of closeness with.

Both of these moments could have completely derailed the film, I think, but Bigelow shows admirable restraint. Yeah, she has that geeky coolness that I still love, but as wonderful as that first explosion is, more of that would have taken away from the film's true focus, its heart. Renner's decision to chase after the killers would have done much the same, dragging the film down to the level of a standard Hollywood procedural thriller, but again, Bigelow pulls back.

Instead, what we see is a supremely damaged individual who feels safest viewing his world through the lens of the bombs he defuses, even literally at one point through the mask he wears. This characterization, coupled with the slow burning tension that never lets up makes for an astonishing viewing experience. Hell, even the appearances by three somewhat more famous actors (Guy Pearce, David Morse, Ralph Fiennes) doesn't take away from the focus of the movie, and I'm glad for the fact that Bigelow chose a lesser-known name actor so that we could concentrate on what we were watching, not who.

I hope the film does well. It obviously won't need to make Star Trek-type money to make back its nut, and I would naver expect it to. But it deserves an audience, and has to be my leader for best film of the year, as well as best war movie of this still-young century.


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