Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Opening Up The Hurt Locker

If you're not a regular at the Holiday Inn or stopped reading so called news-papers, head on over to USA Today for a piece on veterans opining about The Hurt Locker (including Troy from Bouhammer and yours truly). The word polarizing does not begin to describe the effect the movie has on combat veterans, and I might be the sole dissenter among my former platoon-mates who have showered aspersions on the film via Facebook status updates. I have argued that anyone with combat experience has to sever their intimate knowledge of what it's 'really like' from their mind to have any chance of enjoying contemporary war films. Many cannot undo the inextricable link between their time overseas and what they see portrayed onscreen.

I hate to get zen on anyone, but in these times I turn to the words of Roger Ebert, who has been fond of saying, "A movie is not about what it is about. It is about how it is about it." In other words, the movie isn't just about a trio of EOD techs disarming bombs in Baghdad. It is about how the adrenaline rush of combat and all the danger that comes from the next fix. The most important scene in the movie doesn't come from a bomb defusal or a fiery explosion. It comes from James at home, baffled at life moving at an ordinary, pedestrian, boring pace. How it is about it is contrasting the feeling of home and all the inadequacies that come with it, with subtle yet powerful imagery and incredibly sparse dialogue. That is why the film succeeds where others before it have failed. It is by no means a perfect movie and sacrificed technical accuracy for few genuine and many artificial dramatic scenes, but how it is about its own thesis of war is a drug is why the movie is a landmark in the genre of contemporary war films. In the years to come, there will be many more films about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. There will be a handful that are the total package, technically accurate but legitimately and realistically dramatic. Those films will be better than The Hurt Locker, but only because it was there to set the bar far above what we have already seen.

My original review can be found here, and my critique of a review from Big Hollywood can be found here.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Rocksteady Restrepo

My ex girlfriend's best friend and former roommate had an odd, expensive and time consuming hobby. She would collect magazines, dozens of them, and clip out pictures she liked. I'm not sure what she did with them, but I couldn't help but see the consequences of it. Copies of Cosmopolitan and Vogue were littered across the living room and stacked onto bookshelves. Back issues of People were stuffed into drawers. I couldn't help but pick up an occasional magazine and flip through the cut and torn pages. A copy of Vanity Fair caught my attention with the words "Into the Valley of Death," a sharp contrast to Katherine Heigl's upturned smirk on the cover. I read the entire piece standing up, my mouth agape and mind racing. It was the most gruesome account of the wars I had ever read, and two years later I can still remember the chill I got from holding that magazine.

It was quite a surprise to learn that a documentary called Restrepo would be released by the journalists who covered the story for Vanity Fair, writer Sebastian Junger and photographer Tim Hetherington. They wove together combat footage with interviews with the men from second platoon, Battle Company 2/503, with no narration whatsoever. The trailer speaks to the impact of the decision to let the men and the footage do the talking. There seems to be no date for theatrical release quite yet, but the film has won The Grand Jury prize for best documentary at Sundance (a Sundance win usually secures distribution, but like the article says, does not guarantee commercial vitality). National Geographic Channel has secured television rights for this fall, but the possibility of it being edited for language and content would seriously damage the intent and purpose of the film.

For you Hurt Locker haters out there, I'm sorry to report that along with Avatar, it leads the Oscar pack with nine nominations, including best picture, director and actor. Am I the only one who thinks it's a farce that Up is in both best picture and best animated feature categories? And Sam Rockwell deserved both a best actor and best supporting actor nomination for playing himself twice in Moon.