High Expectations

Returning from spending fifteen bucks plus parking to see colleague-praised The Hurt Locker at the Arclight, I am troubled. Not by the violent images or the overwrought sensibility, but by the hype it got.

At its core, message needs to be part of mainstream, narrative film.

The protagonist tells us that he can disarm bombs easily because he just doesn’t think about it. In that same scene, the music is incredibly melodramatic and condescending… So, we get it, the protagonist is a cowboy and a hard-ass. A little later in the film, when we know we are getting a message (yes it’s a scene where the lead talks to a baby, someone who can’t talk back and can simply listen, like us… and yes, a baby, like in Don’t Be A Menace where Keenan Ivory’s head pops out of the crib and screams, “Message!”). The monologue tells us that when you get older, you realize that the jack-in-the-box, that his son cherishes in infancy, will lose its magic and become a box made of tin and a stuffed animal. “Stuffed animal”… well, no… it’s a Jack. That part is actually cool, if it was intended. The box is like a bomb, yeah… But they do mention a couple of “Jacks” or prized insurgents who have become faces on the armed services’ deck of cards, handed out so soldiers can recognize the more notorious thugs. Coincidence? Could be. The message of this film is that war and getting older are shit. Newsflash!

Okay, just some quick notes on other areas where the film disappointed:

The music and sound design make pretty much every death or explosion obvious moments before they occur.

The frenetic camera is quite simply over-done. When the camera is doing a lot of acting, we pay attention to it in greater detail. It certainly does work for the actors in some cases, but it also destroys their performances in others. There is a fine line and I am not sure I know where it is, but this film has stepped far over it.

The film is about fifteen minutes too long… they could have cut out at least a scene, maybe two, maybe three, and tightened others, especially with the pace of the film being so fast and choppy.

I’m not sure why I saw all of those cats.

The one scene that was undeniably the most unusual and involving on a level that every human can relate to – it’s true I don’t know what it is like to have someone’s life in my hands – was glossed over: when the lead runs back from investigating a crime outside of the base and in the actual, Iraqi town. Bigelow constructs a poignant scene in the house of question, but the fear of being, for once, out of his element, escapes us upon the protagonist’s exit with fast, disconnected cuts as if we were suddenly watching an Emo music video of a sweats-wearing lyricist run from his inner demons or ex-girlfriend.

Why didn’t they accentuate more of the realistic moments with hyper-realist, macro, slow-motion shots like they did in the beginning? You can’t let go of a trope that strong.

When Will (Renner) goes back home, it’s a little short and pointless for how amped we are supposed to be when he returns to Iraq… music cues, marches, stupid boot shots, and all.

A lot of thought is required for a “serious” war film. It’s already a very fleshed-out genre.

So, that’s my take on the critical. I could say good things about it, but that’s what everyone else is doing… next, Inglorious Basterds.

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