Saturday, March 22, 2014

35. The Hurt Locker (2009)

Code-name: Right-wing Oscar

Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Type: drama, wartime

1st Class Sgt William James- Jeremy Renner
Sgt. JT Sanborn- Anthony Mackie
Specialist Owen Eldridge- Brian Geraghty
Staff Sgt Matt Thompson- Guy Pearce
Contractor Team Leader- Ralph Fiennes
Colonel Reed- David Morse
Connies James- Evangeline Lilly

Notable Awards & Nominations:

OSCAR- Best Picture
OSCAR- Best Director- Kathryn Bigelow
OSCAR- Best Sound Editing
OSCAR- Best Sound Mixing
OSCAR- Best Original Screenplay- Mark Boal
OSCAR- Best Film Editing
nomination- OSCAR- Best Actor (Jeremy Renner)
nomination- OSCAR- Best Original Score
nomination- OSCAR- Best Cinemtography
nomination- Golden Globe- Best Picture
nomination- Golden Globe- Best Director- Kathryn Bigelow
nomination- Golden Globe- Best Original Screenplay


When it comes to the Oscars, everyone has an opinion one way or another.
I have my own little vendetta to sort out with the Best Actor category, but cinemaphiles like myself go crazy when the Best Picture Oscar doesn't go to the right film.

How "Goodfellas" shoulda beat "Dances with Wolves"...
How "Shakespeare in Love" unjustly trounced "Saving Private Ryan"

My first embittered Oscar battle was the year "Brokeback Mountain," the most talked about movie at the time, lost out of "Crash"... an ensemble picture no one heard of...

But I never flipped out more over the Oscars than the year "Avatar" lost to "The Hurt Locker," a movie I never heard of before awards season. Heck, the majority of the people who saw it did so long after it won the awards, just to see what all the hoopla was about.

It make me wonder...
if Hollywood really is as liberal as people believe (most of which, I happen to be related to), how come "Avatar" lost to a movie that promoted the war in the Middle East and "Brokeback Mountain" lose to some random ensemble film that happens to star a lot of A-listers?

It might be a PC thing (giving it to a movie helmed by the first ever female director to win an Oscar). It might be to make up for the fact that "Saving Private Ryan" lost to "Shakespeare in Love"...
My only guess is that it had to do with how people were starting to doubt our involvement in the Middle East, with W's popularity waning in the latter part of his term, and this was our way of paying homage to our troops... having a movie few people even saw win the Best Picture Oscar as our way of thanking for their service...

Even after seeing it, I still maintain my position that "Avatar" should have won... more on that on a later date...

So why is this among my top movies?

...first of all, I should probably thank Jeremy Renner for talking me into it and by extension, I should thank Robert Downey Jr. for fueling my thirst to learn as much as I could (via the movies) about the Marvel Universe and the Avengers.

Before seeing him in anything, I only saw Jeremy Renner as this rough-around-the-edges guy. On trailers and such, he didn't seem like my type.
After years of boycotting "The Hurt Locker" over the Oscars, I finally caved. Part of it was opportunity (it happened to be on TV one weekend) and part of it was timing ("Iron-Man" was playing after it)... the final contributing factor was that "The Bourne Legacy" was weeks before its release date and the trailers for it looked awesome.

Some Spoilers Ahead

For starters, this was a decidedly different movie experience.
Guy Pearce's character dies in the first scene, which brings in Jeremy Renner to take his place. His unit is in charge of disabling and removing roadside bombs.
The very nature of that is intense in of itself and the way it was brought to life in this picture-- you gotta have respect for what these people do. Several moments throughout the film, I stopped breathing, was on the edge of my seat, just hoping that Jeremy Renner survives to the end of it.

Another impression I had was that Jeremy Renner was only going to be a minor character in this... but he really was the protagonist. Not only that, but I was getting a contact adrenaline rush watching him in action. I can only describe his character as a "maverick."
To put this on the record, Jeremy Renner lost the Oscar to Jeff Bridges... overall, I'm not a huge fan, but all I have to go on are "The Big Lebowski" (which I've yet to give another chance to wrap my head around), "Iron-Man" (where he plays the bad guy) and "True Grit" (where I had zero love for him because John Wayne left too good a first impression on me in the original).

I have my personal gripes about the Best Actor category, but after being nominated twice in a row, I can't help but feel Jeremy Renner should have gotten the Oscar for this film. Because it's unlikely he'll get another shot. Unless of course he embraces that "maverick adrenaline junkie" archetype one more time.

After the first bomb specialist got himself blown up, the first big mission Jeremy Renner had was to disarm a roadside bomb, only to find out that it's connected to a network of several bombs. While he's doing his thing, his comrades are keeping a tight watch on the streets for anyone holding a potential detonator.
Everything went well, but before getting to the resolution, it was intense stuff.

And that was the movie in general. You're in the battlefield with danger possibly lurking around any corner. Horror movie thrillers have the same thing going for them, edge-of-your-seat nail bitter type moments. Unfortunately, the number of horror thriller vastly surpasses war movies, where the real horror stories are. Truth is stranger than fiction, etc, etc.

I'll admit, I'm an American that takes being an American for granted more than I should. Over the past five years or so, I've made small adjustments in the right direction and it's taken movies to do that for me. As long as I get to the same place, what does it matter how I got there?
It took Robert Pattinson dying in the blindsiding final minutes of what looked like another angsty young adult drama for me to appreciate 9/11. When it happened, my biggest concern was it was the only thing on TV for the longest time. But yeah, never took 9/11 for granted again, and that year, I penned a short story that was my way of paying homage to our troops. In essence, it was about one of the people he left behind when he died and how she found a way to carry on. Still hadn't gotten around to writing the sorta-sequel where she meets someone whose life was saved by him in the war.

I've only seen a handful of movies in the genre and as far as the serious war stories go, "The Hurt Locker" is my favorite.
"Saving Private Ryan" was really good, definitely worth the wait, but I think I found something disappointing about it... maybe the fact everyone died by the time it ended, but that's to be expected, I guess.

This movie got a lot of comparisons to "Platoon" and for good reason. It's about showing what life was really like in the metaphorical trenches of war. It shows all parts of the human condition, good and bad, coming to light. And there's the fact that Vietnam and Iraq got a lot of comparisons because there were troves of people who said we had no business being there.
I knew I had to see "Platoon" for a number of reasons... one I'll get to in a future movie discussion where it's more appropriate for me to go into...
but the biggest reason was that that it was the best picture winner in 1986... which I kinda see as my year cuz I was born that year.

To cut to the point, "Platoon" was one of those most numbing movie experiences I've ever had. Oliver Stone and I don't get along well for that reason. Except for the first "Wall Street," which was pretty good, the movies I'd seen of his devoid me of feeling. They contain experiences you get absorbed into, they chew you up and spit you back out, just like the people in their movies.
Luckily for Jeremy Renner, he didn't go the way of William Defoe. How his death scene came about, more than the fact he died, it ripped out my insides. I haven't forgiven Tom Berenger since (but anyone who knows me knows there's someone else I have it in for a million times greater for something he did in a movie... that's also a discussion for another day).

What sets "The Hurt Locker" apart for me that made it not just watchable but enjoyable?
Most of the things it won awards for.

The screenplay was written by Mark Boal, based on a period of time he spent with a bomb squad in Iraq.
It only had a budget of $15 million (all of which they made back, plus $700,000 after winning the Oscar), so the quality of it doesn't screen "Hollywood." It feels real, not manufactured just for the sake of profit. If anything, it's one of the most anti-Hollywood movies to win the biggest prize in the industry.

And Jeremy Renner doesn't play your conventional war hero.
For one thing, he's part of a unit that's a relatively new branch of the military. Roadside bombs are a big part of the war in the Middle East and it's interesting to see that brought to life for us to experience.
For another thing, he's a rare brand in that he runs on adrenaline and instinct more than following orders. He goes that route a little bit in "The Bourne Legacy," but in that case, he doesn't really have a choice other than to work outside the law. He has his job to do in the movie, but if it gets the job down, he'll do whatever it takes. Including taking out his earpiece while disarming a bomb.
Amazingly, he didn't get chewed out for that. He just got a punch in the arm and told never to do it again.

Throughout watching it, I kept thinking how this character was someone I'd like to have on the front line with me. He’s not only good at what he does, but he shows compassion and would be great for keeping morale sharp. In that ambush scene, this one guy was trying to find a piece of equipment or reload a gun and was freaking out. He helped him get through it and told him he could do it.

A sub-plot that stuck with me involves a local kid. He sells pirated DVD's on the streets and is friends with one of the soldiers. They had a nice little relationship, how they interacted with each other.
Sadly, given the state of things, I had this feeling it wasn't going to end well for him. The soldier almost gets himself killed in his quest to find out what happened to him.

About 90% of the movie is tension and adrenaline where you really can't afford to relax. But they packed a lot into the last half hour.
Between the incident with the kid, a battle in the green zone where someone gets injured in friendly fire, and a suicide bomber with a bomb impossible for even Jeremy Renner, the freaking bomb specialist, to detach him from... there's a lot that goes on, but the quality of the story remains constant.

The ending was anti-climatic, but it wasn't a complete surprise.
For what feels a short period of time, Jeremy Renner returns home to his wife and son, showing us another side of him before he has to go back.
In the movies, they like to focus on the sad fact that our troops only get a short time stateside before they have to go back for another tour. But in his particular case, it might be deeper than that. Like his life IS the adrenaline rush of the danger and it's hard to leave it. In reality, there are more serious version of that where PTSD gets involved. I can definitely see that further down the road for his character. Much further.


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