Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Hurt Locker (finally)

Last night I watched Oldboy, a Korean revenge film I highly recommend if you don’t have a problem watching a guy remove somebody’s teeth with a claw hammer, but it wasn’t as good as The Hurt Locker. That’s one of the best movies of the year, equal in quality to Up and Inglourious Basterds, and is Kathryn Bigelow’s best offering to date. Quick disclosure – I was in the Army and did a tour in Iraq, so I acknowledge that maybe the movie resonates more with me because it dredges up old feelings. In any case, I’ll try to keep the spoilers to a minimum.

First off – the R rating is there for a reason. Please do not bring your young children, take them to the lobby when they begin wailing uncontrollably, and then return and force them to endure the rest once they’ve calmed down. Out of the twenty or so people in attendance, there were two so-called sets of parents who did exactly that.

The Hurt Locker starts with a saying, that war is a drug for some, and then centers on a character who is good at his job (defusing bombs in a hostile environment) but takes many unnecessary risks to get his adrenalin fix. Although parts of the movie play like an intense chess match between bomb-maker and bomb-wrecker, this is not a conventional Hollywood flick with a neat little plot that resolves itself in time for the credits to roll. There are unresolved plotlines just like in real life, and although the movie is heavy on drama, I was struck by how many things in it rang true. For instance, it graphically shows that a person cannot possibly outrun an explosion (something the makers of Transformers and GI Joe don’t understand, but then again the GIJ people don’t realize that ice floats).

There is a scene wherein a couple of characters debate whether or not to “accidentally” blow up the lead character, SSG James. A lot of pseudo-realistic war films proselytize the belief that combat is all about the guy next to you, but they never address the problem of what if the guy next to you is more dangerous than the enemy. Full disclosure – I was involved in a plan to “accidentally” shoot our commanding sergeant if he made the mistake of getting anywhere near the fighting, but he wisely fucked us over from the rear echelon.

One character comments on how nice all the tanks look parked on the side of the road. If only the Russians and their armor would invade Iraq, our boys would be where they are needed with the proper equipment. An unfortunate truth is that our military trains to fight previous wars we’ve fought. During my stint, we trained primarily to face the Russians in a land war on open ground in a wooded environment. All the propaganda was geared towards that (“Remember, Ivan is watching you train.”). Then it was announced there was a problem in Kuwait and we had to scramble to repaint our tanks khaki and exchange our forest camouflage for desert fatigues.

The movie is completely apolitical without even a single discussion as to why we are there and if it is justified. It focuses instead on the reality that the soldiers are there and are doing a dangerous job that often has severe consequences. It's uncomfortable to watch the harsh way our soldiers treat their civilians, but it reminds us that in this war the people who approach you as friends look and act like the ones who want to kill you. It’s anti war in that it paints a fairly realistic view of the situation. War is one of those things that can be disparaged simply by depicting it. Despite the fact that the movie was made without the support of the military, it is one of the most pro-military movies I’ve seen. Nobody is depicted as being cowardly, and there is a complete absence of ineptitude and bureaucracy. If you think that, surely, soldiers in combat wouldn’t behave as incompetently as fast food workers, then your combat experience is probably limited to John Wayne movies.

Spoiler alert – skip this paragraph if you intend to see the movie. Short of all the characters being destroyed by Giant Atomic Chickens™ in accordance with Satanic prophecy, I can’t think of a better ending for the film. Killing James on his last day of service would have been a hoary cliché, and simply allowing him to go home after his tour ended would have been a wimpy end to a taut film. Instead it jumps ahead to a time in the near future. His hair is slightly longer, he’s at home with his girlfriend and baby, and yet he looks like he’s just been teleported to a foreign land. His polite dinner conversation is limited to recounting the atrocities he’s witnessed. In the end, he signs up for another tour and the title at the top of the closing screen shows he has another 365 days to go before returning home.

When I left the Army, people complained that all I ever told were military stories. It never occurred to them that I had very few civilian stories because my entire adult life had been spent in the Army. Contrary to what people think, it’s neither a job nor an adventure. It’s a completely different society, and your life is especially different if you are single and living on base without the ability to leave every day, go home to a family, and pretend you have a normal life.

Roger Ebert’s longer and better blog entry about the film is here. Roger, however, completely fails to end his review with a picture of a hot Japanese woman. And to think, he considers himself a professional.



Patti_Cake said...

I was in ROTC in school but only to avoid PE. I knew the military life was NOT for me! I salute (pun intended) those who serve!

Jay said...

We train to fight the last war just like we prepare to stop the last terrorist attack.

I like movies that leave unresolved plot lines and don't wrap everything up for us. I like thinking for myself and analyzing the film and figuring things out.

Captain Dumbass said...

If Ebert could partner up with a Bunny every week I'd watch his show. Wait, does he even have a show anymore?

Kira said...

Thanks for watching that FOR me, Grant. We both know I would have been royally drunk (to the point of maybe having alcohol poisoning) to see that movie to its end ;)

SJ said...

Thanks I am about as far from the military type - I guess I prefer to fight my own battles - as it gets so this was all enlightening.

Will try to see the film.

Hit 40 said...

I will take your review over Roger's anyday. I don't trust his reviews at all!!!

Thank you for the insightful view of the military. I love stories of what people did in the military if you feel comfortable blogging about it.

Martini said...

Roger always fails like that. That's why I read your reviews and not his. You always deliver what the audience wants.

Grant said...

Patti_Cake - our ROTC class made us drill and exercise, so it wouldn't have been much of a duck.

Jay - I prefer no resolution / explanation to a bad one. GI Joe is a good comparison for the Hurt Locker. GIJ had to create a background story for absolutely everything.

Captain Dumbass - he's been very ill and is now unable to speak, so no - he's officially off the show. He still writes for the Chicago paper though.

Kira - I think we should watch it as part of a double-feature with Inglourious Basterds.

SJ - while watching the film, be sure to wear a towel to the theatre and shout "Praise Allah!" when one of we Western devils gets killed. It's like how people are expected to participate in the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Hit 40 - Roger is not down with the awesomeness that is bunny.

Martini - I aim to please. And to have an excuse to look for hot bunnies on the web.

Robin said...

my parents mentioned this, i would like to see it.

Grant said...

Robin - it already came and went around here. No advertising will do that to a movie.