It’s funny how time really can change one’s perception. I was once asked by some friends if I have ever gone back and re-watched a film and had my opinion changed. Usually I don’t find this happening very often, so my initial response was no. While there are times when, over the years, a film can become a product of its time or something of a personal cult classic where you gaze in wonder and ponder what you liked in the first place, rarely have I had this happen with something I first saw only a few months ago.
The first time I sat down in a theater to see Kathryn Bigelow’s Iraq war drama, The Hurt Locker was over the summer when it was finally released locally here in Salt Lake City, Utah. I remember the sheer shock and awe of scene after scene jam-packed with so much suspense the runtime of 131 minutes seemed to fly by. While not necessarily what one could call an extremely entertaining movie, it was definitely a highly engaging movie — at least upon my initial reaction.
The Golden Globes have now come and gone and everyone was positive that The Hurt Locker would be a shoo-in for at least one of its three nominated categories. Bigelow lost out to ex-husband James Cameron in two categories (Best Director and Best Motion Picture – Drama) and again the film lost out for Best Screenplay (Mark Boal). For some it was simple shock as most consider The Hurt Locker to be exceedingly better than Avatar. While The Hurt Locker obviously didn’t have the box office receipts ($12 million for The Hurt Locker to the daily-growing current take of $509 million at the time of this writing for Avatar), time will tell as to whether the Academy decides who will be taking home the coveted Oscar statues come March 7, 2010.
It’s 2004 in Baghdad and SSgt. William James (Jeremy Renner, who at least deserves a nomination of his own for his spectacular performance here) loves nothing more than disarming bombs. Having just been assigned to Camp Victory under the tutelage of Sgt. JT Sanborn (Anthony Mackie), James expresses that he in no way wants to seem like he wants to take the place of recently blown up Sgt. Matt Thompson (Guy Pearce in a great cameo). All he wants to do is do his best and get to some dismantling.
James has personally defused 873 bombs and has a mere 38 days left in his rotation before returning home to his wife, Connie (Lost’s Kate, Evangeline Lilly) and baby boy. Sanborn and Spc. Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) are quick to judge James as either suicidal or just another adrenaline junkie redneck. While Eldridge has been seeing a shrink, it appears at times as if Sanborn is homicidal and has been out in the heat far too long.
James eventually does come to needing an escape as well after he buys a bootleg video from a young Iraqi boy who calls himself “Beckham” (Christopher Sayegh). Later, when James discovers a young boy lying on a table after what appears to be great amount of torture he is convinced that the boy on the table is Beckham. Even later in the film when James runs into Beckham on the streets of Baghdad he’s not convinced whether the boy is really alive or not and pretends to ignore him.
Once James is back home, whether trying to decide on a cereal, aloofly approaching his wife and son as if they’re strangers meeting for the first time, or continually droning on to Connie about war stories, it’s abundantly clear that James has a home and he is not at it. When he sits down to have a one-sided heart to heart with his baby boy about how the things he thinks he loves the most may one day only be three or less it drives the point home that where James belongs, at least mentally, is on his own turf, back in Iraq.
By now, most will have either managed to see the film theatrically when it was released or are seeing it again or for the first time on home video. If you are in virgin territory here, congratulations, you are in for a rocking good time. One of the biggest reason for my lowered score upon revisiting what I originally thought was one of the best war films in years comes down to three things: supporting characters, pacing, and the way too long run time.
Scenes that were originally immensely intense and built to a great payoff come off as almost boring and clichéd once you’ve sat through them. The one particular scene where this thankfully does not happen is the desert sniper standoff. For 19 minutes, we are stuck in the desert with a troop of soldiers under fire with nowhere to go, diminishing ammo, and a scorching sun pitting them all in the depths of hell. This is one standout scene and should be applauded. It could even be cut out of the film altogether and played as a short film and possibly go on to win any number of awards. It brings to mind the opening scene of another far better film, Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds.
In the opening scene of Inglourious Basterds the audience is nearly driven mad with the interrogation of a Jew-hiding milk farmer by Golden Globe winner Christoph Waltz as the fiendishly ingenious Col. Hans Landa. This scene as well could be shown in its entirety, completely out of context, and work beyond measure. While most will undoubtedly run me over the coals in defense of The Hurt Locker they need to remember that my complaints are with annoying side characters (Sanborn and Eldridge) who never seem to shut up and a movie that upon repeat viewing just drags on forever with no extra nuance or depth. It’s a one-watch flick if you want it to achieve its full potential, and when it comes time for the coveted prize to be handed over, unfortunately history will repeat itself and it will not go to The Hurt Locker.
Photo courtesy Summit Entertainment