The Good, The Bad and the Badass: Kathryn Bigelow
Last week, we took a look at the career of one of our true modern acting giants, Daniel Day-Lewis. This week, we’re going back behind the camera to examine the career or a director who, herself, is no stranger to the Oscars, even though it took a good twenty years for her to finally get the acclaim she long deserved.
It’s hard to imagine, but there was a time when Kathryn Bigelow wasn’t considered an A-list director. Her last two movies, THE HURT LOCKER and ZERO DARK THIRTY both scored with audiences, critics and the academy, but prior to that, she was known mostly for her genre films, many of which were never taken seriously despite the fact that they were often quite excellent.
Bigelow’s career began in the early eighties with a biker film she directed, called THE LOVELESS, which starred a young Willem Dafoe. It barely made a peep once it went into (limited release) and unlike her subsequent films, hasn’t really picked up much of a cult following on home video. But- in that department- she scored with her next film, NEAR DARK. Bigelow, along with co-writer Eric Red, took what could have been just another teen vampire saga, and turned it into something really sinister, and often, quite beautiful. The film was unfairly overlooked, perhaps due to competition with 1987’s other big teen vampire movie, THE LOST BOYS, but it picked up a major following on VHS, and to this day is considered a classic (think of it as the anti-TWILIGHT).
After NEAR DARK, Bigelow went on to make the actioners BLUE STEEL and POINT BREAK, which are both super solid movies, and have gone on to become cult classics. However, it’s the failure of STRANGE DAYS that seems particularly tragic. Released in the fall of ’95, this grim millennial tale was completely overlooked by both critics and audiences. While it’s a bit dated now, with the idea of SQUIDS (which record experiences from the cerebral cortex, allowing viewers to “live memories”) seeming a wee-bit advanced for 1999. However, you also need to look at the film in the context it was released in. It came out shortly after the Rodney King beating, and in the midst of the O.J trial. A lot of that makes its way into the film, with one of the plot threads relating to a Tupac-style rapper who’s been assassinated by the LAPD (which was a conspiracy theory surrounding Tupac’s death at the time). It’s a fascinating film, which works both as an actioner- with Angela Bassett being the perfect, strong James Cameron (who produced and co-wrote) heroine- and social commentary.
OK, so technically K-19: THE WIDOWMAKER can’t be called overrated, as it was slaughtered by critics when it came out in 2002. To be honest, I actually quite like the film, even if Harrison Ford is horribly miscast as a Russian sub-commander. It’s a decent movie, but it also feels like a total commercial miscalculation by everyone involved, especially Ford. Bigelow still gives it some style and adrenaline, but with a few casting tweaks this could have been so much better. As it is though, it’s not half-bad.
Her most memorable moment
I was tempted to throw in either the foot chase from POINT BREAK or the sniper sequence from THE HURT LOCKER (with a cameo from Bigelow’s STRANGE DAYS lead Ralph Fiennes), but to me, one of Bigelow’s best sequences is this one from NEAR DARK. If you’ve never seen the movie, this should be more than enough to show you that despite being a teen vampire flick, this ain’t no TWILIGHT. Bill Paxton steals every scene he’s in as the razorblade-spurs wearing vamp, Severen, although Lance Henricksen gives him lots of competition as their aged, weary leader, Jesse. This is my favorite part of the flick, where Adrian Pasdar’s newbie Caleb, is initiated into the fold with a bloodbath.
Bigelow’s been linked to a few movies here and there, but her IMDB page seems quiet, so I’m not sure if she’s working on anything new or not. Following up on the one-two punch of THE HURT LOCKER and ZERO DARK THIRTY will be tough, but I have no doubt Bigelow’s next will be another great one.