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Sunday, 31 January 2010

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Hurt Locker




Okay, here we go, continuing the reviews bonanza with the most critically-acclaimed movie of 2009, The Hurt Locker. Much hype has been surrounding this film, most of which has been gained purely through word-of-mouth and not the powers-that-be behind marketing. In fact, the movie was originally given a limited release, but because screenings were so successful it was given wider release schedules worldwide. Also, in a change from the usual format of "Oscar-season" films was released during the summer of last year. So strong was the critical acclaim that The Hurt Locker seems to have defied the set rule, and with the recent changes made in the format of the Academy Award voting system, is a sure-fire front-runner for the Best Picture award come March 7. However, whilst critical acclaim may have been great all round, for me, if it is still a bad movie, it is a bad movie, and the big question is whether or not The Hurt Locker will live up to its critical plaudits or defy them. The story goes that Staff Sergeant William James, played by Jeremy Renner, is the head of an EOD bomb-disposal unit in Iraq, alongside Sergeant JT Sanborn, played by Anthony Mackie, and Corporal Owen Eldridge, played by Brian Geraghty, and the film follows the final weeks of their tour together, as the tensions develop amongst them during their tasks of bomb disposal. The film opens with a quote from New York Times war correspondent Chris Hedges: "The rush of battle is a potent and often lethal addiction, for war is a drug." In a world of film where film-makers quote famous commentators in order to make their film look cool or reputable, this is perhaps the most poignant and completely relevant quote to open any film of the past few years. It is not only also a summary of the film, but also in many respects a teaser for an argument which is to be further elaborated on during the course of the film. The three leads in the film are absolutely vital in the depiction of this central and very topical theme. Jeremy Renner gives a unique performance as Sergeant James, as we slowly watch his character evolve over the course of the film. While the character is very much a dark and unhinged character from the start, it is only as the film progresses and through Renner's underplayed intelligence do we find out how far gone he is as a character. It is the perfectly display of underplaying from Renner, and is completely appropriate for the character. Any other actor could have made the mistake of having their portrayal of the character being a behemoth and extravagant performance. Renner's portrayal of James is a real subversion of the typical unhinged solider, lacking in screaming and cackling manically at wanton destruction, making up for it in a deep injection of humanity which makes the character all the more terrifying. It is the different aspects to this character that we can all relate to so well, and Renner's portrayal of him is so good that it could quite easily be overlooked. When judging great acting performances, people tend to judge performances on a theatrical context without taking into account that all theatre cannot help but be influence by the real world. Also complemented the performance of Renner are Mackie and Geraghty in the respective roles of Sanborn and Eldridge. Mackie gives a very nuanced performance as Sanborn, played as the polar opposite of James, playing Sanborn as a regimented and very machismo character, who does not let his emotions get in the way of the work he has ahead of him. However, Mackie's prowess in this role suggests as the film goes along feelings of desperation and self-loathing being prominent in the character, providing the perfect counterpart to James. Geraghty too gives a good performance as Eldridge, completing the unit. Whilst in many respects the character relationships do not give Geraghty as meaty a character to play with in the acting terms, his role in the film is absolutely necessary to the dynamic of the piece, and Geraghty plays this role very well. This brings to the script by Mark Boal. As mentioned, Boal has written an excellent piece that revolves around the three main characters, each of whom are written very well to not only create unique personas for each, but also to complement one another. Also, the dialogue in the film is really well written. Throughout the film, there is a real cutting edge of realism and humanity to the dialogue, making the film so easily relatable. In the context of the setting of the Iraq war, which to many of us who cannot know the reality of war itself is very theatrical, so to inject these characters who are very human and are spewing human dialogue enables us to be brought as a sort of participating observer into the characters' situation. Also, the film is brilliantly structured. With regards to character development across the course of the film, this is about as good as we are going to get this year. Naturally, as we follow the characters on a journey, they change as human beings, although each in different manners due to their interactions with one another. Also, working out what scenes go where in a story is like piecing together a jigsaw puzzle: its only going to work if you put the right pieces in the right places. Here, all the pieces of this particularly complex puzzle are in the right places. Also highly deserving of commendation are those involved in the technical aspects of the film, Barry Ackroyd as cinematographer, and Chris Innis and Bob Murawski as editors respectively. Ackroyd paints the world of Iraq during the conflict as something absolute horrible, brutal and chaotic, but also creates a surrealistic sort of majestic beauty out of the madness of the world, particularly in the night scenes of the film. However, this does not take away from the daylight scenes for the entire film is excellently photographed. The work of Innis and Murawski in the editing suite only makes this work seem all the greater. Cutting at the right points, this is the work an intelligent group of editors who are getting rid of all of the films excess flak. Also, the minimalist score by Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders is utilised at the right points, both to develop tension and heighten the depth of character study in a scene. Avoiding the more orchestral works that have characterised his career thus far, Beltrami and Sanders really have composed a score which is a case of less is more. However, much of the films success must go down to the efforts of Kathryn Bigelow. Her translation of Boal's wonderful script to the screen is masterful. Also, throughout the piece, there is displays of the work of an experienced director who knows what she is doing, giving leverage to her cast and crew to create the best possible working atmosphere, but also knowing when to apply herself. The Hurt Locker is only as airtight as it is due to Bigelow's efforts, and every shard of excess flab has been completely stripped away. After having gained a great degree of experience in the action genre with films such as Point Break, this really is her magnum opus. The Hurt Locker is undoubtedly in my opinion one of the best films of the year. Does that answer your question?

The Thin White Dude’s Prognosis – 9.6/10

The Thin White Dude’s Self-Diagnosis – Pleased to see a genuine masterpiece

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