Monday, June 29, 2009

The most entertaining movie review ever

It was inevitable. For all the reviewers that threw a temper tantrum when an Iraq movie had political undertones, there had to be one guy that goes further and laments a lack of the right kind of political undertones. That (dubiously) brave man is Alexander Marlow, a Breitbart.com columnist whose review of The Hurt Locker is serious deadpan masquerading as high-satire.

If you get past the use of the word "bromance," Marlow beclowns himself by not actually talking to someone in the military before he rushes to conclude what they must feel about war at the physiological level. He takes issue with the movie's tagline "War is a drug" by breaking it down to moral terms. If war is a drug, and drugs are inherently bad, then war is bad, and eureka! Marlow dug long and hard enough find a nugget of anti-war, leftist, Hollyweird propaganda. By applying the phrase to a peculiar model of moral and political equivalence, Marlow tries to shove the square peg through the round circle to make a claim about the movie's secret perspective.

Marlow quickly neutralizes himself by failing to understand the nature of war. In a bizarre acknowledgment, he tells the reader that he "has not ruled out a stint in the military." That must give his readership pause; he has at least considered service. His strenuous claim is a feeble attempt to put forth some understanding of the military and war. Sadly, Marlow investigates the political significance of "war is a drug" rather than consider what the phrase actually implies. War is indeed is a drug, a horribly destructive thing men do to themselves that gives a rush unlike anything you can find on this planet. I've never had heroin or cocaine, but I bet it hovers near the feeling of a sniper's bullet missing your head by inches. Or the tremor in your guts when you have a live body in your sights - how the world drops away, and there isn't a thing on the planet that matters more than you, him and the rifle in your hands. And when those rounds explode out of the barrel in a brilliant flash and the acrid smell of gunpowder burns your nostrils, you know that no amount of skydiving or drag racing or sex will ever come close to what war makes you feel in your bones. That's why I can't stop getting speeding tickets or rewatching old videos from my deployment. I want that feeling back. I haven't kicked the war habit yet.

One particular criticism of the movie is rife with unintentional hilarity. Marlow quips, "There is no plot. Just a series of unrelated missions. Much like my high school dates, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this thing wasn’t going anywhere." Marlow, to his credit, accidentally quoted the thought of every infantryman in history without ever speaking to one. From the street level, there is no plot in war, just a series of unrelated missions that fit in The Big Picture on some Powerpoint presentation. Especially in EOD units where there literally is no mission, just bomb interdiction. They get a call to check out a possible threat and move to disarm it. Over and over like Groundhog Day. There is nothing romantic about that procedure. That's the nature of the game. In my infantry unit, protecting each other and bringing everyone home safe was the primary goal. Bringing democracy to the proud people of Iraq and "quashing evil" was an afterthought. There is no way those elements could come across in a movie without feeling forced or stilted. Unfortunately, obtuse people like Marlow absolutely hate it when a movie, book, TV show without an overt political agenda emerges and forces the audience to make up their own mind. They'd rather watch Autobots kick over commie tanks with American soldiers in the background than watch an Iraq movie and weigh the contents seriously.

You have to wonder about a writer when he bemoans "Won't you please think of the Iraqis?!" in a review of a movie about American soldiers. It's like asking why James Cameron didn't focus more on the iceberg in Titanic. While important, it's secondary to the conflict. The same goes for The Hurt Locker. The conflict is between a man and his EOD team, and from what I can tell, the inner conflict he faces when he goes outside the wire to confront buried IEDs. It's almost an art form to be so intellectually dishonest, and Marlow seems to be an up and coming Picasso.





Above: The lack of Iraqis in this picture is absurd. It just has an American soldier tugging on an IED wire! OUTRAGEOUS!


Even if you take away his silly posturing about what a war movie should be, he's just not very convincing with his argument. Iraq movies have been absolute garbage so far, but each should be taken individually instead of blurting out a kneejerk "liberal bullshit!" before the previews start. It's base, it's silly, and if you depend on vacuous reviews to provide insight, you might let a good movie slip by. I'll see the movie on opening day and write a review here, but I'll have to leave my rose-colored glasses and handheld patriotism detector in the closet and judge the movies on its own merits. You know, the way movie reviews used to be written.

Edit: 7:45 PM central 6/29/09 - Removed ad-hominem comments. I'm trying to broaden discourse, not debase it.

23 comments:

Contributors said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alex said...

I've thought about that cunning question and I was sure to limit the critique to assertions the reviewer made about the tagline, the nature of EOD and the complaint of the lack of Iraqis. I don't have to see the movie to understand the premise behind it or the aforementioned absence of indigenous people. I'm not cool enough to be invited to a press junket, so I'll just have to wait with all the other slobs. This response was time sensitive, as responding to this review after I see it July 10 would be a little much (and tardy). When I come back with a review, I'll be sure to expand on my claims and likely make new ones. But who knows, it might suck.

Contributors said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alex said...

Noted Contributors, but go back and look again. I wasn't trashing the review's take on the cinematic elements of the movie because I haven't seen it. But I don't think it's outrageous to comment on the elements that I have intimate knowledge of (the feeling of being in a war and EOD procedures). You also don't have to see the movie to know a story about American soldiers probably should limit the amount of Iraqis in it, unless the plot demanded it (it does not here). Seeing the movie and then reviewing it does not an enlightened review make. Just hit up the original to confirm that.

And you got the title wrong chief. I'm not referring to my review but to Marlow's.

Anonymous said...

Great job destroying the reviewers points. Asshole thinks he can speak for soldiers, good to see someone put him in his place.

Contributors said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
CI-Roller Dude said...

Army Dude,
There are few movies and even fewer TV shows where the director/writer will actually get the "shit right."
A few who've not been in war at least tracked down those who were and didn't start with a pre-existing idea of what they thought war should be...bla bla bla...
Dude, no other citzens really give a shit, but us VETS need to let the movie makers know we're tired of re-hashed BS. A few have even thrown in the "Nam Vet stereo type" which makes me puke...most Nam Vets are good folks, they just got treated like crap.
check out Band of Brothers (required watching in my platoon) and Generation Kill.
After a year in Iraq, I figured I was about as useful as a pimple on a whales ass....but all my teams came home safe.
CI Roller Dude...

Alex said...

Well, there goes my rebuttal. Down the tubes like Contributor's comments.

Kelsey said...

Okay, I can't resist putting my two cents in. To be fair, Alex, I think both you and Marlow each have a couple of good points. However, the two of you are coming at this from opposite viewpoints and so will never agree.

As an Iraq vet, someone who's actually been there and seen these things and knows what it's like to be a soldier in combat, Alex, you're coming from the perspective of reality; that this is what things are REALLY like.

Marlow, for his part, is looking at the movie like, well, a movie. His two questions sound like discussion questions I would have written for one of my literature classes in college. He's seeing it purely as a work of fiction and analyzing it as such. He clearly has no idea what it's like to be in a war. Granted, neither do I, but I've read enough blogs and books written by soldiers (of which yours is one of the best, by the way) to realize that most of his rationalizations don't work because, as you said, he's never asked a REAL soldier what it's like, instead making generalizations and guesses about something he knows nothing about(for example, he complains that "none of the characters were motivated by anything upbeat or inspirational"--just taking a shot in the dark here, but I'm guessing most soldiers in Iraq aren't there purely to save "innocent, oppressed people from tyranny" right?) Clearly he hasn't done his due diligence as concerning research and backing up his suppositions.

Some of Marlow's comments about the movie's structure and the fact that it is in fact a movie and not a documentary are valid, but Marlow doesn't seem able to decide if the movie is too real or not real enough. He wants it to be realistic, but not so realistic that it doesn't make a good movie for as you pointed out, "there is no plot in war". No plot makes a bad movie, but a real war. Especially this one.

Now, concerning the political aspect, his reasoning that "'War is a drug.' Drugs are bad. Thus, war is bad" is overly simplistic and brazenly ignores all sorts of factors that should be taken into account.

And yes, wars might have been fought for what is considered a "good" reason, but those wars were still terrible. People died, in horrible ways, and that is never good.

Sorry, I didn't mean to write a book, I just wanted to point out some things that I noticed both in the original review and your review of the review. There were some glaring omissions in Marlow's piece that needed mentioning, but I also wanted to point out that you two are coming from different worlds, and most people aren't good at seeing other people's worlds. I meant no offense to either you or Marlow :)

Alex said...

Thanks for the thoughtful comment Kelsey. I think I mucked up the "there is no plot in war" line. What I was getting at is the reviewer failed to see how the movie's disjointed mission structure mirrors actual combat, and it would be a boring story if that was the sole focus. Instead it's about a reckless EOD guy that puts the lives of his men at risk (as well as his own). That inner turmoil to keep the adrenaline flowing even at the cost of soldier's lives makes the story more compelling, not the background of bomb diffusion missions. I think that's important when considering what the real storyline of the movie is.

I think you nailed it when you said he doesn't know how realistic the movie should be.

Anonymous said...

Good job Alex! And Thank You for serving. Ken

sn0r said...

I saw your article linked on the original article about the 'Hurt Locker' movie. I was so engrossed reading it I immediately read all the previous blog posts from 2005 onwards. Great writing, dude. I was struck by the frank style and the oh so sarcastic comments on your deployment in Iraq. Brilliant. Oh, and I inadvertently linked the article on Fark even though you'd already done so. Sorry 'bout that man :-)

TSO said...

If this post were a blow up doll, I would fall asleep tonight exhausted.

Fricken genius my friend. Glad my coblogger linked it.

Smokey Behr said...

"What about the lack of Iraqis?" my ass. Every post, article, comment, thread, etc. that I've read about IEDs has a common item: THE LACK OF LOCALS ANYWHERE NEAR THE IED! Especially kids! All the grunts and jarheads say the same thing: If there ain't no kids, shit's gonna happen. Kids out on the street are ubiquitous. They have nowhere else to go; so when there's no kids, and only a few people as the patrol comes through, there's an IED somewhere close, and a tango on a rooftop with a cellphone waiting for just the right moment.

Alex said...

Thanks TSO! I take that homoeroticism as a high compliment. Bromance!

Smokey,

Excellent point. You know something is going down when there's not a kid in your face asking for chocolate.

Are you getting this down Marlow?

defendUSA said...

As usual, I think you are spot on. People who have not "been there, done that" should not ever attempt to review and interject because they have no idea.
Marlow really should have asked someone about the "truths" in the movie. It seems that he disregarded it, and frankly, that is offensive and I have not been in combat.
I look forward to the real review- yours.

Grung_e_Gene said...

Yeesh Alex! No wonder you are/were a (rolling armored) bullet sponge you just dissed Powerpoint! Powerpoint!!!1!

Anonymous said...

http://bighollywood.breitbart.com/jjmnolte/2009/07/02/review-the-hurt-locker-2/

lola said...

my husband brought the movie home with him on R&R, and I found it fascinating. He's not on an EOD team but is called to work with them from time to time. He pointed out a few things that he said were slightly inaccurate, at least per his experience, but overall he said that it was a really good depiction of what he's been exposed to.

I think this is my first time commenting, but I've been a longtime reader of your blog and really enjoy your perspective.

NUGHT said...

Hey alex...

Im not going to ruin the movie for you but Haji had hurt locker on the shelves 2 months ago.... I work with EOD everyday... Im EOD security.... I didnt read Marlows review but i can understand why it would be negitive... even if he doesnt fully understand war, iraq, IED's, soldiers, etc, etc.... The movie blows.... It's not even close to what EOD does or how they do it... It's not even close to how we do missions in iraq, and it wasnt even close on alot of the sub plots and sidebar bullshit extra mission shit they do... The real EOD guys hate it... some of them wont even watch it because they have heard of some of the things in the movie... It's actualy laughable.... It's almost as if a guy with Marlows insight into the military, war, IED's, and EOD, wrote and directed this movie... I don't even think its possible they even asked a real soldier if any of what goes on in the movie actually happens in iraq..... The movie has some bangs and that inner struggle with adrineline, but other then that, its way off... disappointing.....

Im trying my best not the review it right here but shit, I hope your expectations arnt high.... Ill say one thing to set the tone for you before you watch it... every single mission they role is a one truck convoy... just there truck with three dudes... that's EOD in the movie... they go outside the wire by them selves and when they get there, its just them and the world of Iraq.... 3-4 truck convoy is standard for a combat patrol.... your not allow anyless....

Now on a side note. 2 hours ago i was rolling around bagdad with two trucks mine and EOD's because our Iraq escort wasnt where they were suppose to be... because of the SOFA we arnt allow on the streets between the hours of 5 in the morning to midnight without escort... So two hours ago im rolling around baghdad with mine and another truck looking for these Iraqi retards in the fucking heat... I'll tell you, knowing there isnt other convoys in the city or anywhere around you when your 2 deep isnt a good feeling... you could feel the locals stareing at us... to top it off as good as EOD is when they are doing there jobs, its like having a truck full of admin guys while doing security... so really it was my truck and my crew with another truck (which i would have had to babysit had something happen) running some bullshit logistical meet and greet mission....

I know im ranting but seriously, after you watch the movie ill come back and point out anything you miss.... Im not a stickler for 100% accuracy but shit it has to be kinda like the really thing..... Right???

fnord said...

My favourite: "I object to this as a conservative, but also as a movie-goer. Boal shot himself in the foot by writing dumb heroes instead of brave ones. It is much harder to root for reckless, arrogant pricks than it is heroes motivated by goodness. Maybe he has heard of Batman, Spider-man, Superman, etc. The audience becomes emotionally invested in these heroes because of who they are. Not so in “The Hurt Locker.”"

What, no superheroes? He objects tot hat as a conservative? Groan.

Anonymous said...

that was beautifully written and cogently argued. i'm bookmarking your blog now. i wish breitbart could hire someone like you, but being a veteran you probably understand how anyone declaring themselves to be anywhere on the political spectrum tends to be a fool

Anonymous said...

btw for anyone who wants a filmic depiction of iraq, check out generation kill. it goes a little overboard in how it portrays the officer class (only a little haha) but for the most part does a damn good job and according to at least many marines from the actual unit depicted is spot on. the gripers are the ones who are portrayed as incompetent, there's two sides to every story, sure. but i think it shows it all with an eye for truth.