Monday, July 13, 2009

The Hurt Locker

The Hurt Locker, a film about an Army explosive ordnance disposal squad, is getting rave reviews from critics. It's Metacritic ranking is a whopping 92%. That's better than Up.

On IMDB, however, The Hurt Locker is currently rated at 7.7 out of 10. This is a more accurate rating. It's a good movie, not a great movie. The cast, which includes cameos by Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes, David Morse and Evangeline Lilly, is uniformly excellent. The three lead roles are portrayed by relative unknowns with Jeremy Renner (perhaps best known for his recent stint on The Unusuals) playing the part of the renegade adrenaline junkie, Will James.

The cinematography, editing and directing is also top-notch. It's a fairly realistic and gritty portrayal of these soldiers lives in Iraq--hot, dirty, dangerous and deadly. Although there are those with more knowledge than I who quibble about the accuracy, I thought the movie--with its hand-held docudrama style--did a good job at creating a feeling of versimilitude.

I find it highly unlikely, however, that a character like Will James would survive and prosper in the Army. The military is not known for being a haven for rebels and non-conformists. James not only consistently endangers his own life, but the lives of his squad as well. Although I agree that the men and women fighting over in Iraq deserve to have the realities of their lives portrayed, the character of Will James is not exactly what I'd call heroic and his reckless actions are not worthy of glorification.

I did appreciate Renner's work and look forward to seeing more of him in the future. He acquitted himself admirably in a role that was not quite realistic or fully realized. In one scene, the cool operator used to making snap decisions in the face of death is at a loss trying to pick from the myriads of options in the cereal aisle. Moments like this offered intriguing possibilities in story telling--unfortunately there were far too few of them.

One IMDB reviewer described the film as "a vivid portrayal of...war-like situations," and I think that sums it up nicely. Writer Mark Boal has strung together a sequence of tense, taut, terse scenes. It's engrossing and will keep you on the end of your seat. But the story as a whole never goes anywhere. Will James is pegged at reckless from the get-go by his team so when Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) rants at him after being shot in the leg due to an unnecessary excursion, there's no drama. When Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) whimpers about wanting to live to have a son after another James-induced close call, it's merely more of the same.

Perhaps if Boal had taken the time to create a clear trajectory for the story: maybe by having the team being impressed and influenced by the hair-trigger hotshot only to turn on him when his antics cut too close for comfort. I'm not sure what the solution is, but the film doesn't add up to much of anything in the end. The film opens with a quote by Christopher Hedges: "War is a drug," and apparently the point is that Will James--and America--is addicted. But that gets lost in repetitive action sequences.

Too bad. A little more exploration and insight into what makes the addicts like Will James tick--instead of the bombs he detonates--might have turned a merely good movie into a great one.

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