Monday, July 06, 2009

Thoughts on the film: The Hurt Locker

I always liked Kathryn Bigelow. Point Break is of course a classic action film, although most of her other films I never really got into. But it's terrific to see a woman making movies with balls.

The Hurt Locker is without doubt her best film. Of course she owes a lot of that to screenwriter Mark Boal, who created a beautiful little story based on his experience as an embedded reporter in Iraq. This is real life stuff, not the imaginings of someone on the outside, but it's directed by a woman who knows how to blow stuff up with subtext.

I just find it fascinating that she manages to create so much masculinity in her films. There is a scene in The Hurt Locker where these three guys are in a room beating the crap out of each other for fun, which is something only men ever do, and yet it felt completely real.

But some of the best work in this film is right up front. The film opens as three bomb techs attempt to disarm a bomb in the middle of and Iraqi street. The whole scene you just know something's going to explode and someone's going to die and you spend the whole time waiting for it to happen. So from the opening scene you are already tense and concerned for these guys, and you never really lose that.

The opening scene also concludes with a surprising event that makes you realize this is not a normal Hollywood film, which ups the stakes because you just never know who's going to die or whether or not the heroes will save the day.

Technically, this film breaks a lot of rules we're all told never to break. There's a point-of-view shift - in fact, you're not entirely sure who the protagonist is through some parts of this film. The unknown actors get all the big parts. There isn't a set goal other than survival, which is really difficult to use to propel a film. They overcame that problem with the ticking clock - every so often on the screen you will see how many days the boys have left in country, so you're constantly reminded that they just need to live through the day. That's the goal.

Despite this, the film is just plain terrific. Three of us entered the theater. Three of us came out in solid agreement that this was a poignant and entertaining movie. One of my friends even said "Until I saw the credit at the end I would have sworn one hundred percent that a man directed this movie."

I was tense the entire film. Sometimes bombs go off, sometimes they don't. It's a recipe for constant edge-of-your-seat moments. And the characters, oh they are glorious. They are established quickly and clearly with little moments that take seconds but say volumes. I honestly can't think of anything in this movie to complain about.

So Kathryn Bigelow, if by any chance you ever want to direct a zombie action film with some cool explosions in it, you go ahead and you call me. You can be my director any time.


  1. Crikey, haven't you seen NEAR DARK, her classic vampire film? It's her early movie and totally cool ... you should really see it, if you haven't yet.

  2. I don't really like gory movies though. This sounded gory.

  3. It's not that bad, in terms of gore, really. Much less than the average zombie film, for example. I'm not a gore fan myself.

    It has stellar performances from Bill Paxton, Lance Henrickson and Adrian Pasdar, all early on (this is late 80s) and playing cowboy vampires as a family ...

    It's really quite good, a damned classic, I highly recommend it.

    And considered it's her first major film, she's way ahead of the curve with vampires.

  4. Okay I'll check it out, but if I throw up all over my couch I'm blaming you.

  5. LOL! Okay, fair enough.

    Jeanette Goldstein, who was in ALIENS, is also in this movie, it's practically an ALIENS reunion.

  6. NEAR DARK is an fantastic film and until I saw HURT LOCKER, the only Kathryn Bigelow film that I think is as good as she is.

    Your comments on not always being sure who the protagonist was reminded me about an interview with Robert Towne where he mentioned that one of the things he loved about ONE FALSE MOVE (a sadly unsung thriller from 1992) was that it was an hour into the film before he realized who the lead character was. It's an interesting way to look at how a film can be structured...and since films are usually cast with stars it's always going to be a rarity.

  7. Anonymous8:49 PM

    You wrote: "I just find it fascinating that she manages to create so much masculinity in her films." That was such a cool statement. Normally, I don't think too much about what female writers / directors can do versus what male writers / directors can do, but your post made me think about it. Of course, since the movie is based on a male screenwriter's real-life experience who knows what his level of influence was on the film. The scene you referenced about the guys beating each other up -- maybe the screenwriter had a lot to do with that looking so real -- maybe he was a deeply involved "technical advisor" of some sort. I don't know. Also, whether you're male or female, it's easier to make a movie that seems "real" when it's based on a true-story and / or real experiences and events.

  8. ONE FALSE MOVE is a classic, also starring Bill Paxton ... co-starring Billy Bob Thorton (pre Karl Childers) who co-wrote the script with his writing partner.

    Another great scary no-gore movie is FRAILTY, directed by Bill Paxton ... a very smart, scary movie that was criminally underlooked.

  9. I really enjoyed Frailty. Simple premise that's really intense.

    Near Dark is decent vampire movie. Big fans of Henriksen and Paxton.

    I curious Emily as to how you can be such a Zombie fan yet not like gory movies? Those two generally go together, no?

  10. The gore in zombie movies is generally very fake looking. Plus they're not human and don't feel pain, so there's not much empathy. What bothers me about gore is the empathy I feel for the person getting messed up.

    In my script, the violence is very sudden - lots of gunfire or chopping off limbs. There's not a lot of long drawn out torturous death. That's the stuff I really hate.

  11. I'm not a huge Bigelow fan; I don't wildly like any of her films. But what I do like about her is that she takes on male subject matter, char's & worlds: Surfers, robbers, cops, military men, etc... Very few women filmamkers dare to do this.

    It's something I think more female filmmakes should tackle. There are plenty of male filmmakers who make movies about women after all.

    I would even go so far as to say, the day we see women filmmakers making male centric movies on a reg basis, is the day we'll see women be more successful in the industry as a whole.

    If KB can find a way to make male centric movies (or just ones w/ masculine sensibilities), I'm sure other women can find a way as well.

    No offense, but not all us women want to make movies about finding the right guy, planning a wedding, going thru life's ups & downs w/ our best friends, or shopping.

  12. I'm right there with you Laura.

  13. i want all my films to be about shopping for the right zombie, planning the best gun-wedding, going through ups and downs with our best friends who happen to be vampires looking to find the best thong.

    Bigelow is the shit. I love this quote by her: "If you hold a mirror up to society, and you don't like what you see, you can't fault the mirror. It's a mirror."


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