Sunday, June 7, 2009

I guess you can say it's "100% pure adrenaline"

Off the top of my head, here are the films made in the past few years that were about the Iraq War: Home of the Brave, Stop Loss, Redacted, Grace is Gone, In the Valley of Elah, and The Lucky Ones. These films starred Tommy Lee Jones, Charlize Theron, Susan Sarandon, Samuel L. Jackson, John Cusack, Rachel McAdams, Jessica Biel, Tim Robbins, Ryan Phillippe, 50 Cent, and Christina Ricci. They were produced and directed by notable filmmakers like Brian De Palma, Kimberly Peirce, and Paul Haggis. One of them even had music by muthafuckin' Clint Eastwood. These are big names or at least relatively well-known names, and yet all of these movies bombed horribly. They didn't just bomb either, they BOM-BED. Perhaps the message here is that the public is not ready to watch movies about a war that is still going on. I'm not saying that's a good or bad thing, I'm just saying.

Anyway, there are producers out there who beg to differ and are still throwing their hat into the Iraq War Movie ring. The latest gamble is called The Hurt Locker, and like the other flicks, this one will probably wind up not just bombing, but BOM-BING -- and that's too bad because this is a damn fine piece of badass work.

I guess that is to be expected when the director of the flick is a lady by the name of Kathryn Bigelow, the same lady responsible for movies like Near Dark, Strange Days, and a quiet, subtle, low-key chamber piece drama called Point Break.

Okay, so I'm tripping up on my sarcasm there, but that doesn't change the fact that I dug that movie. I mean, come on, if you can't have a good time watching Patrick Swayze get all Zen guru about surfing or Keanu Reeves saying in complete dead seriousness "I AM AN F! B! I! AGENT!", then you're physically incapable of having one. Shit, man, I still try to find reasons to tell a motherfucker "Utah, get me two!" Gary Busey-style. I'm that fuckin' lame, and Kathryn Bigelow is that fuckin' awesome.

And so is The Hurt Locker, for that matter. The film focuses on a U.S. Army bomb squad from "Bravo Company" as they go around defusing explosives all around Baghdad. The entire movie is about having to get up every morning to purposely go face-to-face with bombs left on the sides of roads, or in abandoned cars, or in one fucked-up case, inside a dead body. It's bad enough when dealing with rickety equipment, hidden tripwires and surprise timers, it's even worse when you have apparently every Iraqi citizen watching you from a distance. And that's the real bitch of it all -- these guys have to look around and wonder if these guys are just looky-loos or deadly "Hajis". They don't know if that dude filming them with a video camera from a third story window is shooting this for posterity or because he's one of the bad guys and he wants to record the inevitable explosion to post up on some insurgent's website. Any Iraqi with a cell phone is a potential detonator, any approaching cab driver is a potential suicide-bomber.

The soldiers from Bravo Company have 38 days left in their rotation before they can go home again, and after losing one of their own in a blast, they're a bit shaken but still hopeful that they will make it home. That is until the replacement, a staff sergeant named James, shows up with a whole different game plan. Yup, it's Lethal Weapon time, and they're Murtaugh and he's Riggs. He constantly puts himself in harm's way which is bad enough, but it gets to a point that he could be putting everyone else in danger.

Bigelow's style is usually pretty slick and arty, but this time she eschews most of that and instead goes for the gritty handheld look. It's shakycam, but well-done shakycam that never lets the audience lose focus of what's going on in spite of the constant zooms and movement. It definitely feels real, like this must be exactly what these guys have to go through over there. It's an incredibly tense movie, I haven't felt this wound up and nervous about what would happen next since Sorcerer, another badass movie about things that go KABOOM, and those who know how I feel about *that* movie would understand that this isn't faint praise.

At heart, this is an action/suspense flick that happens to take place in the Iraq War. It doesn't make any grand statements about who's right or who's wrong, it doesn't take a stance one way or the other about the war. The main theme of this movie is how some motherfuckers thrive on danger so much, that it becomes their main drive in life, their only reason for being. To some, war is a drug, the movie tells us. I know this because there's a quote at the beginning that ends with the line "war is a drug". And then I guess Bigelow figured that the audience would be full of dumbasses, because the words "war is a drug" are then highlighted in case someone wasn't sure what the most important part of that quote was.

The events are presented with such a Rorschach test neutrality that you'll come away from it with whatever you brought to it. It can play as a different flick to different people. There's the occasional moment where someone does something, uh, questionable, but I really don't think the movie is trying to push an agenda on you when that kinda shit happens. Yet some will accuse the film of trying to make the soldiers look bad, while others will accuse the movie of making the "hajis" look like monsters. But all the movie is showing us is that these are human beings capable of making very human mistakes and very fucked up decisions, and that's just the way shit goes. Look man, if I was in the shit and some fuckin' insurgent took out a few of my fellow soldiers and we ended up finding him and wounding him badly, maybe I wouldn't be so quick to take him to a hospital either. Maybe "right" or "wrong" wouldn't figure into it. I'll probably regret that shit later in life, but hey, it's the heat of the moment, you know? The sympathy/empathy train goes both ways too -- the person I felt the most for in this flick was an Iraqi dude from the last ten minutes or so of the movie. This coming from a guy who loves to use "derka derka" and "bulla bulla" whenever possible. Speaking of which, derka derka derk bulla bulla bulbulla!

The Hurt Locker doesn't come out until late June/early July, and even then I'm guessing it will only play the art houses. People will stay away because they don't want to watch a movie about some shit that hasn't ended yet. Others will stay away because they think they're going to get a fuckin' lecture about the war. Too bad, because they're missing out. This is one of those nail-biters you always hear guys like Gene Shalit and Jeffrey Lyons talk about. This is one of those movies that some unknown radio douche will say had him or her "on the edge of my seat". I think if I quote others, I can get away with using those statements. There are no big stars in this flick, but there are cameos by Guy Pearce, David Morse and Ralph Fiennes, the last of which I'm guessing was a favor to his Strange Days director. Evangeline Lilly is also in this movie long enough for you to go "Hey, is that Kate from Lost?".

I watched a screener copy of this pretty late at night, and I wasn't sure I was going to make it because I was dead tired. But by the end of the movie, I was as wired as one of those fucking bombs Bravo Company had to defuse in the movie. Even a simple two-shot of a couple of soldiers having a conversation had me all nervous, expecting something to explode or someone to shoot at them. There's never a moment where shit just feels safe. I had a full can of Sprite that I never touched because of this fucking movie. Part of it was because I was so into the movie, I forgot about being thirsty. The other part was because I was afraid that shit would blow up on me if I touched it. So thank you, Kathryn Bigelow. Thank you for making me all tensed up even though I haven't had caffeine for weeks. While I'm at it, I'd like to thank you for this: