Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Hurt Locker (Kathrine Bigelow, 2009)

Spoilers Ahead.

I don't think anyone doubted Katherine Bigelow's action chops, established in the 80's on films like Near Dark and Point Break. Those roots can be seen throughout The Hurt Locker, a taut drama that follows a bomb squad in Iraq, which both employs and subverts many of the tropes of 80's action films. The two main characters, Sgt. Stanhope and Sgt. James, are straight out of a buddy cop flick: James, the swaggering adrenalin junkie who plays by his own rules is the classic action hero, with Stanhope as his straight-laced, by-the-book foil. (Look at the moment leading to the climactic street battle,where Stanhope reluctantly follows James--straight out of an 80's action flick!) In a typical action film, we'd immediately find ourselves cheering for Sgt. James, and it's a testimony to how well Bigelow has conveyed the seriousness of the situation that very early on, we find ourselves sympathizing with Sgt. Stanhope, the one who seems to take the situation seriously.

The Hurt Locker is a drama about people whose lives take place in a constant stream of action/suspense scenes. Every single day, these guys have to defuse a bomb, and once in a while, one of them gets blown up. That's just the world they live in. The third character, Specialist Owen Eldridge, is going mad with the stress, obsessing over his own mortality. So you have three characters: One who wants to live (Stanhope), one who (it seems) wants to die just to end the suspense (Eldridge), and one who doesn't give a shit (James). Or is that the right way to put it? Sgt. James seems to only feel alive when he's taking absurd risks with his life. In the brief view of his life on the homefront, we get a picture of how disorienting "normal" life can be for a soldier. At one point, an officer asks him what the best way to defuse a bomb is, and he answers "the way that doesn't get you killed." To Sgt. James, life in a warzone is clear and uncomplicated. Each choice you make comes with the question, "what will keep me alive?" Absent that mandate, it becomes unclear how to even make a choice. If there are no breakfast cereals that will blow you up, how do you know which one to choose?


Post a Comment

<< Home