Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Decade of Best Pictures: THE HURT LOCKER

Welcome back to the first DECADE OF BEST PICTURES series of reviews where we will be taking a look at a decade of Best Picture winners over the course of 10 days. In this series we will be looking at the decade of Best Pictures from 2005-2015 in reverse chronological order! This seventh entry will be for the 2009 Best Picture winner THE HURT LOCKER!

The Hurt Locker is the 2009 Best Picture winner from acclaimed director Kathryn Bigelow. The films awards success was historic as Bigelow was the first woman to win Best Director Academy Award for this film. It tells the story of a bomb diffuser joining up with a team in Iraq and shows their experiences whilst showing the deeply skewed and damaged emotional psyche of the lead character. The film stars Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty, Guy Pearce, and Ralph Fiennes.

I think The Hurt Locker is a stellar movie overall, but I find myself frequently forgetting how good it is. This is the first time Bigelow stepped into the area of true modern warfare (though she had done other military projects in the past) and gave viewers a glimpse into the wars in the Middle East. If you know me, you know that I think Zero Dark Thirty is a bona fide masterpiece. The Hurt Locker doesn’t reach that level, but it is still incredibly good.

I think The Hurt Locker succeeds from being unflinchingly believable, extremely well written, and performed with subtlety. Although it’s shocking that it took until 2009 for a woman to win a Best Director Oscar (Bigelow is still the only woman to do it, in fact), this award for directing was beyond deserved on the merits of the film alone. The shots in this film are styled in such a way as to get you in the position of the boots on the ground and are coupled with sound design that transports you to Iraq. One scene that stood out especially to me was the sniper scene. It is slow and plodding and it makes you feel the frustration and discomfort of a sniper standoff. To this day I am still stunned by this sequence and how effecting it is on me as an audience member. Bigelow’s unflinching style extends beyond these obvious scenes, however, as she tackles some deeper issues of PTS and dependence in the film as well. When Jeremy Renner’s character comes home we see all these subtle moments of how emotionally damaged he is but it is done completely within the bounds of believability that the emotional impact of it is heightened ten-fold.

The Hurt Locker is also impressively well written. This was the first film that paired Bigelow with journalist turned screenwriter Mark Boal. This combination (which has extended through Zero Dark Thirty and the untitled Detroit Riots project scheduled for this year) has been an incredible one. Boal has a way of writing where none of the dialogue feels misplaced. You can actually buy into the fact that these people would say and do the things they’re doing and that adds to the powerful believability the film holds. This film has a relatively simple screenplay, but it evokes complex things through the subtlety which is why this is a massively impressive work of screenwriting for me.

Finally, the strength and simplicity of the performances make this film come together perfectly. Renner, in the lead role, is so good at being this bomb diffuser character who you get the impression has a few screws loose but that is so genuine you feel for him the whole time. Toward the end of the film he also has some powerful emotional moments (one in Iraq and one with his baby son) that just wreck me every time I see them because of how deep they are as moments. The rest of the cast is also really good. The two standouts for me are Anthony Mackie and Guy Pearce who add a flavor to the film that makes it all come together and work.

This film’s issue, which I alluded to earlier, is that it is somehow forgettable. I have tried, for years, to figure out why this is forgettable and I can’t pinpoint what it is. Maybe because all of the big moments are slow and filled with frustration. Maybe because it is so “ordinary.” I’m not really sure what it is but I find myself constantly losing sight of how good it is. I think that it is, in some ways, forgettable detracts from the film as a whole.

Overall, I still think The Hurt Locker is impeccable and threw me headlong into modern warfare in ways I never thought I’d see. There is so much brilliance in this film from the realism to the writing and performances. The film suffers from not hanging in the memory of an audience member, however. Definitely a must-see though.

Ryan’s Score: 9/10

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