Archive for February, 2010

The Hurt Locker

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010—Film

The Hurt Locker (USA 2009, Action/Drama/War), Writer: Mark Boal; Director: Kathryn Bigelow

BD and I recently brought our movie nights home when we rented The Hurt Locker. Somehow, it feels disingenuous to me to break the film down and analyze it too much. Maybe it’s because I know so little about the Iraq War, and only what stories and my imagination tell me about life in the military; maybe it’s because I live in the peace, freedom and security of Canada… I didn’t have this problem writing about Rescue Dawn, but maybe that’s a testament to just how powerful The Hurt Locker is.

Most of all, though, I won’t say too much because the movie speaks for itself. I’m only writing now to recommend it to everyone. The Hurt Locker is set in Baghdad in 2004. A company of American soldiers is nearing the end of its rotation with the Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit when their team leader is killed in the line of duty. Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner) fills in, and the film follows him and his team as they disarm bombs in and around the city, and try to grapple with all that their jobs entail—on tour and at home.

A few minutes into the film, BD commented on how real everything looked. She was bang on. At the risk of sounding naïve, I’d go so far as to say you feel like you’re actually there.

Kathryn Bigelow is an inspired director with a smorgasbord of films to her credit (Point Break, Strange Days, The Weight of Water). For The Hurt Locker, she uses a documentary-style approach—multiple hand-held cameras, often shooting at ground or eye level—that lends an amazing sense of realism. The film opens with a palpable tension that literally had me holding my breath. I had to keep reminding myself to relax so I wouldn’t send my back into spasm again (long story involving Frisbees).

The direction and acting are so impeccable that The Hurt Locker comes across as more of a documentary than a work of fiction. Bigelow creates an immediacy that really brings home what the men in Bravo Company experience; how mundane and routine their days can be, and also how downright unspeakable. It’s a tour de force from Bigelow, and one I hope will earn her a Best Director nod at the Academy Awards.

Hands down, a must-see film.

Crazy Heart

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010—Film

Crazy Heart (USA 2010, Drama/Music/Romance), Writer/Director: Scott Cooper

Crazy Heart plays a bit like one of those novellas that doesn’t have a substantial story but spins out a character so beautifully that you forgive it.

There’s nothing unique in the film’s storyline, which is based on Thomas Cobb’s novel of the same name. Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges) is a washed-up 57-year-old country singing sensation with four failed marriages and three years of writer’s block. But he can still bed women in every small town he plays, and swallows down the bitter taste of it all with alcohol.

Bad tries to pull himself out of his slump, reconnecting with current music great Tommy Sweet (a miscast Colin Farrell) and, more significantly, trying to forge a relationship with single mother Jean Craddock (a perfectly cast Maggie Gyllenhaal, who always delivers—see Stranger Than Fiction). But it’s clearly going to be an uphill battle for ol’ Bad.

Crazy Heart is reminiscent of Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler, although not as daring or well paced. That said, nothing is truly original anymore, and what matters isn’t the story so much as the telling.

With Crazy Heart, writer/director Scott Cooper paints an incredibly textured and complete portrait of Bad, who is inhabited mind, body and spirit by Bridges. It’s a sensational performance, from his beaten down body language to the smoky voice he lends to the original songs. The movie is essentially a character piece, and one that’s well worth the price of admission.

Even Bad’s music—written by American music mogul T-Bone Burnett—is excellent. In fact, it’s so good you’d swear the songs must already be hits (and this coming from someone who, with the exception of Johnny Cash, is not a country music fan). There’s a scene in the film where Bad plays a brand-new song for Jean and she says it sounds familiar. “That’s the way it is with the good ones,” he tells her. “You’re sure you’ve heard them before.”

If that’s how it works with Bad’s songs, it definitely works the same way with Bridges’ performance. He instantly makes his character so real and sympathetic that you feel you know him intimately. Maybe “familiar” isn’t always such a bad thing. It’s kind of like coming home.