Movie Review: The Hurt Locker (2009)

Good movie, unworthy of the two Oscars __ 7/10

TThe Hurt LockerSpc. Owen Eldridge: Aren’t you glad the Army has all these tanks parked here? Just in case the Russians come and we have to have a big tank battle?
Sergeant JT Sanborn: I’d rather be on the side with the tanks, just in case, than not have them.
Spc. Owen Eldridge: Yeah, but they don’t do anything. I mean, anyone comes alongside a Humvee, we’re dead. Anybody even looks at you funny, we’re dead. Pretty much the bottom line is, if you’re in Iraq, you’re dead. How’s a fucking tank supposed to stop that?
Sergeant JT Sanborn: Would you shut the fuck up, Owen?
Spc. Owen Eldridge: Sorry. Just tryin’ to scare the new guy.

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Written by Mark Boal

Jeremy Renner … Sgt First Class William James
Anthony Mackie … Sergeant JT Sanborn
Brian Geraghty … Specialist Owen Eldridge
Guy Pearce … Staff Sergeant Matt Thompson
Ralph Fiennes … Contractor Team Leader
David Morse … Colonel Reed
Evangeline Lilly … Connie James
Christian Camargo … Colonel John Cambridge

On the Coffee Coaster blog a few segments ago, I opine that the selection, by the Academy, of The Hurt Locker for best picture and best director—it received four additional Oscars—represents a betrayal of honest artistic judgment… as a minimum. Basically, the Academy, in my humble opinion, was sending a message by snubbing the shoo-in, Avatar. From my blog:

The story of Avatar is revolutionary… to the current pro-war system (driven by debt to the international banksters). The movie is uncomfortably libertarian to the ruling class. A native population rises up and throws off a colonial imperial oppressor. Too close to home for the kleptocratic killer elites.

… where The Hurt Locker is supposedly not pro or anti war, but has a theme of “support our (bomb dismantling) troops.” The war machinery, which filters down and controls the corporate machinery, which controls the Academy, basically decreed, “We cannot chance making Avatar critically important, because too many real people will figure out the anti-war-machine theme, and we’ll be out of business sooner rather than later.”

And the Hurt Locker is a safe PC-feminist (the director of the Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow, is an ex-wife of the director of Avatar, James Cameron) alternative. Pretty sick if you ask me. There’s simply no comparison in vision, in execution, in scale, in story, in epic moviemaking, and yes in directorial brilliance.

But when I wrote that blog, I hadn’t seen the Hurt. Now having received it courtesy my Netflix queue, I’m even more adamant than before that the Academy was smoking ropey dopey or otherwise distracted from its mission when it handed the two most coveted statues to the movie and to director Bigelow, respectively.

Granted I’m no expert on what makes excellence in direction of a movie; the proof is in the pudding, so to speak. And on this score, you have to give Ms. Bigelow snaps for bringing an interesting story to the screen: Sgt William James (Jeremy Renner) has just been assigned to an elite bomb squad in the Iraq theater, after the death of the former leader of that squad. James is competent yet fearless to the point of recklessness… which causes admiration and misgivings among the men he leads.

The job is harrowing to say the least. Basically, the squad tries to prevent IEDs (improvised explosive devices) from exploding, which isn’t the easiest task in the world. You really see how desolate the streets of <Virtually Every City In>, Iraq, are, and how the people on those streets and in the shells of homes with no water or electricity try to keep their lives going. Who destroyed those homes, who shut down the city services, who hauled multiple residents off to jail to be tortured, or killed them outright on routine “terrorist” sweeps? Yup, you guessed it.

It doesn’t make sense to build IEDs that kill friend or foe indiscriminately. But you can certainly see some of the motivation behind the shadowy figures building these devices, thus making the Infidel Occupiers spend inordinate amounts of time and losing their own lives in the process of stopping them. The technology for disarming the IEDs is extraordinary, including this iron man costume (which I believe is the actual hurt locker) that does provide some protection for the lead disarmer, Sgt. James.

Plot?

Well, we follow the bomb squad and get to learn all the processes for dismantling IEDs, including how the rest of the team provides cover from snipers or other threats. It’s a hot, dirty, suspenseful job, and after the first incident most viewers get the point. The physical courage in the midst of chaos, as well as the camaraderie that develops, provides a solid basis for sympathy with the characters. And we learn about the main guy, James, as well as other men of the unit, what makes them all tick. So, well done. Further, we see the squad perform in a true combat situation, which crops up inexplicably. But it’s a powerful pure “war movie” scene.

What can I say? I doubt that I’m alone among Americans for essentially turning away from the damned wars in the Middle East that should never have been fought in the first place. The actual wars are over. The military actions there are now nothing more than horrific occupations, outrageously expensive killing fields by and of “the coalition of the willing.” Iraq and Afghanistan are meat grinders that only serve to enrich special interests. Ongoing Atrocities with a capital O.

My guess is the overwhelming majority of human beings in the West who care about public affairs share my sentiments. So why didn’t the Academy play to the bleachers, and reward the antiwar, anti-empire movie—which was technically and cinematically an unparalleled masterpiece—with the top awards?

Moreover, why hand the top awards to The Hurt Locker, which only reminds you of the war/occupation? It’s as if to say, “We don’t care how the people feel about that, we’re going to rub their noses in it. Yes, I realize Kathryn Bigelow is the first woman director to have won an Oscar, and James Cameron is supposedly a self-absorbed jerk. Perhaps the Academy was simply having a feminist-narcissist hissy fit.

But I truly think the reality is more sinister: a desperate attempt to deflect popular awareness and anger away from the roots of war and those who like it. The movie was just okay, forgettable. Much better effort was The Green Zone, same year, starring Matt Damon, because it actually gives the antiwar message in the context of a good soldier trying to stand for the truth while being scuttled by his superiors who want nothing like that.


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