Thursday, August 4, 2011

Platoon It Ain't

Being a fan of vampire movies from way back, I'm quite familiar with a little '80s cult classic named Near Dark. It's a quick and dirty horror flick about some gruesomely violent bloodsuckers (Bill Paxton, Lance Henrickson, and Janette Goldstein fresh off the set of Aliens) cruising the southwest for victims in a winnebago. It's one of those films that succeeds only because the actors are having so much fun with their roles (Henrickson recounted two stories on the featurette of terrorizing people, including an armed cop, as a means of getting into character) as opposed to say any shred of competence on the director's part.

And so we come to Kathryn Bigelow.

I'd avoided The Hurt Locker for some time because I once watched an interview with Bigelow and found her to be the most self-aggrandizing airhead in the western hemisphere. That sort of vacuousness helming a film on one of the more divisive cluster-fuck nightmares of the Bush era sounded like all kinds of failure waiting to happen. At least until this week when I was bored and saw it in the library...

It's okay. Not as horrible as I expected but certainly not worthy of all those Oscars -- especially when set beside A Serious Man, Inglourious Basterds, In The Loop, and District 9 (frak Avatar). It's a very middlebrow affair with plot twists and character archetypes set down within the first twenty minutes. You know the reckless Jeremy Renner is going to be a headache for his new team and they're going to learn his maverick ways get results at the same time he learns his maverick ways cause undo pooch-screws but it's all he knows how to do with his life. So that's okay. Sort of.

In fact, the whole plot is kinda stupid. And poorly directed. You know whoever's working the camera doesn't know it from their own asshole when the film is about bomb disposal technicians in modern Baghdad and it can barely hold your attention. But even when I tuned out for a few minutes, it didn't matter as everything was still muddling along.

Though there were two things that really stood out. First, there is a really realistic sniper duel after our heroes meet up with a bunch of British mercs. It's a long, slow scene like the rest of the movie but appropriately so for once -- complete with spotters directing little incremental changes in fire. Second, and more importantly, this film gets at a basic truth about the whole Iraq disaster --

They hate us over there now.

It's subtle and likely unintentional but every time an Iraqi appears, you can just see how pissed off they are that these damn foreigners are tromping around their neighborhoods and causing so much racket. And why wouldn't they be pissed? They were invaded and occupied! Why wouldn't they fight back -- and as dirty as possible I might add. Much is made of the nastiness of using IEDs and suicide bombers, but those are the tools at hand. And it's their goddamn country.

I remember some interview with Renner back in 2009 about how this movie isn't about Iraqis at all. No, they're just set pieces for these good ol' American boys to work out their own navel-gazing angst. It's reflective of the Iraq dialogue at large because we continue to debate the threat posed by Saddam Hussein or whether we should have invaded on a Tuesday or a Thursday while ignoring the fact we've murdered a million people so George W. Bush could one-up his daddy. America's not ready for a movie that addresses that horror and I doubt it ever will be. One thing's for sure, if that sort of movie gets made it sure as hell won't sweep the Oscars.

1 comment:

  1. Well-written, logical, but I disagree with your views on the Hurt Locker and Bigelow's directing capabilities in the first place. Point Break, Strange Days, Near Dark and The Hurt Locker are good films, good for their respective genres and if nothing else, that smacks of good direction amongst other things. Cannot hold the attention? I was riveted, and I'm a bit jaded in the movie (especially patriotic war movie) department. You're right about the realism in the sniper duel but ignore it everywhere else - like the supermarket and family life re-adjustment scenes on return to the USA, the hatred in the Iraqis' eyes and the tension regarding constant threat of attack, etc. There's enough in this film to respect, it all adds-up to a fairly decent treatment of the subject matter, especially by Hollywood standards.
    Inglourious Basterds is a coke-head's reimagining of one possible WWII fantasy scenario... and coke-heads tend to be over-confident, even Tarantino. With I.B. the performances definitely stood out, but not the direction, plot, or realism.
    Try a pot-head's take with Kelly's Heroes and Donald Sutherland as a hippie tank commander, far cooler.