Friday, January 8, 2010

The Hurt Locker: realism cinema at peak art form


NOTE: Though I haven’t described any scenes in detail, some references I made hint at some shocking incidences which it’s better to check out without reading about it first!

There’s a scene towards the end of the film where SSGT William James (played with character by Jeremy Renner who excellently carries the film to a satisfying conclusion) tells his kid that as you grow older, the things you are interested in becomes few, and perhaps one day there might be just one or two things left in life you are really interested in and passionate about.

Some critics take this scene as an excuse for Renner, part of a United States Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team, to go back to the Iraq war, and therefore, ultimately leading to a predictable end to an otherwise great movie.

But I beg to differ.

Renner’s decision is predictable in that it is consistent with his quirky character -- who in his right mind will decide on his own to go back to the Iraq war? Yet having disarmed more than 800 explosives must have taken something deep inside him -- that even he may be not aware of -- to make him almost addicted to this dangerous “pastime”?

So I cannot say that Bigelow was going against the general international opposition towards the Iraq war purely for provocative value at the risk of being labeled a misguided patriot.

I can hardly disagree with Renner’s philosophical and existential look at life because I myself have found fewer and fewer things of interest as with age I am now more and more able to separate the many junk from the few gems that are found in life -- even when it comes to cinema itself.

Predictably, I haven’t written this long a review for several months because, well, I myself have become disillusioned with one of the few things I am passionate about now: movies.

The short reviews I had put up on this website and my official blog were just passing references to some movies that are mostly watchable and not necessarily pure forms of art.

Over the past few years I have become disillusioned with both Bollywood and Hollywood and even with European cinema which recently has become Hollywood-crazed, spewing out Hollywood-type movies but with an accent -- and also an aura of European exoticism -- what I call pseudo art posing as real art to cheat audiences (For example, if you think David Fincher’s Seven is a work of art, well, what can I say…)

So you really appreciate when once in a blue moon you are treated to pure cinematic art like Crash, United 93, Sideways, Little Miss Sunshine, Rachel Getting Married, Bridge to Terabithia, or in the case of documentaries, works like Man on Wire, Bus 174 or Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room.

I had been wondering what film could beat District 9 to take the place of my favorite film of 2009. As realism cinema is so rare I mostly dare not hope for more in order not to end up disappointed. So, it was with some apprehension that I started watching The Hurt Locker.

But what a reward it turned out to be!

When the film opened with Chris Hedges' words on the screen, “The rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction; for war is a drug” I had a feeling I was on to something and I was right: Bigelow has got everything right -- from cinematography to score to character development and pace of editing.

From start to finish, you feel the tension of not knowing your surroundings, or even the nature of the Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) that Renner is forced to disarm on streets, vehicles, buildings, anywhere imaginable, even inside the bodies of humans -- an instance which also sets the platform for one of the most gruesome and disturbing scenes, which ironically box office pundits in fact blame for having kept audiences away from the film resulting in its poor revenue. But I bet Bigelow wasn’t concerned about box office rewards and made this uncompromising film for sheer movie buffs like me. Thank you Kathryn!

This gruesome scene also allows Bigelow to play around with uncritical audiences’ sense of predicting the plot (hint: involving an Iraqi boy called “Beckham”) -- and then giving us the opposite, making you feel silly for having made that prediction in the first place! Or was she just been naughtily playful with her audiences? Somebody like Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed perhaps?

To describe in musical terms, The Hurt Locker is like a masterpiece composition, a rare achievement even for any auteur.

I like films that appeal to me regardless of critical appreciation and awards. But I would like to make an interesting predication that Bigelow could beat ex-husband James Cameron’s Avatar to take the top honors at the Oscars this March.

Cameron already holds an Oscar record for Titanic and the industry may feel that Cameron deserves recognition more in technical achievement than aesthetic cinema. I am more for Cameron winning a lifetime achievement award this time for his exhaustive and innovative 12-year work on Avatar and Bigelow winning Best Director and Best Picture for The Hurt Locker.

Who knows, the Academy may. After all they elected Obama. So why not set yet another precedent by giving the Best Director and Best Picture Oscar for a woman for the first time by the 82-year-old Academy? America is a country that sets the trend, right?