The UnPopular Opinion: The Hurt Locker
THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!
****SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****
I have always appreciated war films. Growing up, my exposure to the genre was through World War II movies like 12 O'CLOCK HIGH and SANDS OF IWO JIMA. As I got older, I branched out to more action-oriented films like THE GREAT ESCAPE and THE GUNS OF NAVARONE while still appreciating the cinematic scope of movies like THE BRIDGE OVER THE RIVER KWAI. It was not until my late teens and early adulthood that I began to appreciate the less glorious depictions of war. Film has tended to glorify the heroes of battle and villainize the opponents, regardless of which period it may have been. As we approached the 21st Century and the tragic aftermath of September 11th, 2001, war films have becoming bitterly divided between the conservatives and the liberals in the United States. That means every war film now carries with it a message in favor of or wholly against the battles on display. The political nature of making war films today is that there is no way to not have ulterior messages within your tale.
As someone who has never been a soldier nor fought in a war, I am entitled to my own political beliefs. But, when I say that THE HURT LOCKER is one of the most overrated and disappointing films to ever win the Academy Award for Best Picture, I say so purely from the place of a movie fan. My lack of military experience should not color the fact that Katheryn Bigelow's film is a poorly paced feature that is riddled with cliches and a piss-poor ending that belittles the entire film that came before it. While Bigelow would go on to helm the far superior ZERO DARK THIRTY, it was her Oscar-winning turn on THE HURT LOCKER that garnered her the acclaim she deserved for her entire career. It is a shame that her success as a filmmaker will be linked to a mediocre movie such as this.
The problem that is inherent with everything I dislike about THE HURT LOCKER is that it purports itself to be a different kind of war film, one up to date with the modern warfare troops experienced in Iraw and Afghanistan. It is very well known thanks to the volume of media available to us provides a vast amount of information regarding war and the experience of troops that we never knew from previous events even as recent as the first Iraq war or Vietnam. That being said, if THE HURT LOCKER had lived up to what it claimed to be, why do all of the characters feel like stereotypes from every war film ever made? We have the rookie who doesn't know what he is in for, the disturbed soldier who has been deployed far too long, the African American soldier who is the voice of reason, and the main character who just loves being in the shit and putting his life on the line and not because he is a patriot but because he has nothing to lose.
If you think about that last character, Jeremy Renner's Sergeant First Class William James, he sounds a lot more like Bodhi from POINT BREAK. That Katheryn Bigelow film never once pretended to take itself seriously and we can all enjoy the adrenaline rush of it without having to turn our brains on. In THE HURT LOCKER, Renner's character feels like a dangerous menace and not someone we would want to have on the front line, defending our troops from explosive threats. In fact, this makes our military seem like it will take anyone regardless of their mental situation. Even last year's AMERICAN SNIPER showed how the toils of war can change a person, and not for the better, along with how that can affect their duties in the field. THE HURT LOCKER just makes it seem like a shitty place to be full of shitty people peppered amongst the good ones. That is a disservice to our actual soldiers.
Once again, THE HURT LOCKER also demonstrates Hollywood's disdain for making foreign characters anything more than cardboard cutouts of human beings. I do not pretend to be well-versed in the Islamic faith or what life is like for Muslims, but every character that is not wearing an American military uniform in this film comes across as being just there to add some visual depth to the tale rather than anything resembling a three-dimensional creation. From the young DVD peddler, Beckham, who is turned into a human bomb to the inexplicable scene where James enters the home of an English-speaking Iraqi professor only to be hit over the head by his wife and never have the scene mentioned again. Anything that does not serve the purpose of showcasing gritty bomb scenes in this film feels like it was half-assed by screenwriter Mark Boal.
There is a social responsibility in films that many people overlook or take for granted. Even a film like FIRST BLOOD manages to build in a narrative about a war veteran being forced into a corner to survive. But, when you think of that movie, what you really remember is RAMBO, not FIRST BLOOD. On the other hand, you have a batshit violent film like BAD BOYS II where there is a destructive car chase through a shanty town that clearly results in the deaths of innocent civilians, but no one bats an eye because the sequence is so damn cool. Both of those films were presented as pure entertainment whereas THE HURT LOCKER is a message film about a very serious chapter in history. By failing to live up to that message, it falls dramatically short.
Ultimately, THE HURT LOCKER falls into the same category as CRASH. Both films won Academy Awards that they did not deserve because their story felt relevant to the out-of-date Academy members voting for them. From a very high level, THE HURT LOCKER demonstrates a technical prowess that makes Katheryn Bigelow's award appropriate along with the trophies for editing and sound. But, Mark Boal's screenwrting Oscar and the Best Picture achievement are sorely inappropriate. In a decade or two, film fans will reflect on THE HURT LOCKER as a decent movie but not nearly as good as it was made out to be. If anything, it will be remembered as the movie that helped introduce us to Jeremy Renner and Anthony Mackie as they embarked on careers featuring much better end results.
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