Kathryn Bigelow makes tough films. I was captured by her 1995 pre-Y2K caper “Strange Days” with Ralph Finnes, and the film broke 20 minutes before the end. I had to come back another time to see the end. People posted the ending on AOL chat rooms then.
So with Summit Entertainment ('Twilight' and 'Knowing') and 'Grosvenor Park' she goes 'indie' with the very male and military “The Hurt Locker,” a docudrama about the last 40 days or so of a bomb tech company in Iraq (presumably Baghdad, although the film is shot on location in Jordan) . Besides Ralph Fiennes and Guy Pearce, some of the other actors may not be as familiar: Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackey, Brian Geraghty, David Morse. The film is written by Mark Boal, and this must have been one of the toughest movies ever to screenwrite a shooting script for. The two hours and ten minutes of the film are relentless, and get to a level of detail almost unprecedented in combat film (except maybe 'Saving Private Ryan') but Bigelow has a sharper edge even than Spielberg. In one episode in the film's 'middle', the soldiers are pinned down in the desert by snipers in a lone half-blasted 'building, and the film takes us through the mechanics of weapons fire that outdoes what I was shown in Basic Training at Fort Jackson back in 1968 (although the movie certainly brought back those memories in detail). Later a few of the soldiers have a barren wrestling match (no chest hair) in a 'warrior' barracks confrontation that seems like an exploration of the military concept of “unit cohesion”, and makes one wonder about how “non conformity” would affect the unit. Of course, one could think about “don’t ask don’t tell” here and it seems to get blown away. But, in fact, one of the other soldiers, Col. Cambridge (Christian Camargo) stands outside the most down-to-earth forced intimacy, directing the traffic from a bit of a distance, and seems just a bit gentle in nature; one wonders how he winds up in this environment with a more gentle nature – and his outcome will be a matter of suspense, perhaps tragic (I'll avoid the spoilers).
Everywhere the insurgents set traps, even in the corpse of a kid, even selling DVD's and playing soccer. Toward the end, a couple of the soldiers talk about their families, and Sanborn (African American, played by Mackie) talks about failing to have had a son. But when one of them returns home to the states and sees his wife and son, he contemplates the reality that “they need bomb techs”. It seems that family is not for real “family men.” Days remaining: 365. Bigelow is tough on us.
The film was shot in regular aspect 1.85:1 instead of Cinemascope, and there is a certain focus on the closeups as a result. The Dolby Digital sound of the weapons fire is as location-specific as I have ever heard. The film played to a fair crowd on a Sunday night at an AMC as a Select film in Arlington VA.
Update: March 8, 2010"The Hurt Locker" is said to be the lowest grossing film to make best picture (it also got best director for Kathryn Bigelow), beating out (with an $11 million budget) "Avatar" ($300 million). Could Bigelow take on 'don't ask don't tell' next?Update: May 26, 2010
EFF reports that 'The Hurt Locker' is included now in the piracy litigation targeting some P2P downloaders. Bigelow is apparently the first female director to win best picture at the Oscars.