Monday, February 15, 2010

My mother's quest

My mother, like myself, is a very big fan of cinema and also of the Oscars telecast. Every year, she makes it her personal mission to see most, if not all, of the films that have been recognized by the Academy, because it makes the show more interesting to watch. I also try to do this, because I enjoy having a knowledge of the performances - this way I can agree or disagree with the Academy's choices on an informed basis.

This year is no different - my mother made up a list of all the films nominated for the major awards and planned her attack thusly. I am to be taken along for the ride, because my father is not quite so invested in the Oscars as we are. It's a bit tricky at the moment, since some of the films on her list (Invictus, The Last Station) were not wide-release to begin with and are now almost vanished from theaters. But some are actually out on DVD or available on Pay-Per-View, which was how we came to see The Hurt Locker.

Do not doubt that The Hurt Locker deserves all the praise it has been receiving. Ms. Bigelow has created something raw and gritty, that gave me insight into something I didn't know much about before. She captures the tense moments perfectly and for exactly the right amount of time - it is easy, I think, to over- or under-play those "edge of your seat" moments, and Bigelow gets them down perfectly. The opening scene had me sweating in my chair after only a few minutes; a scene in which Jeremy Renner works on a car bomb made me near forget to breathe.

The one technique Bigelow overplayed, in my opinion, was the shaky real-cam. I developed a bit of a headache by the end because of all the bouncing around; this style of shooting does give it somewhat of a documentary type feel, but it is a conceit that the movie is strong enough to do without. I would have felt the impact more if it had been used more sparingly to highlight the peak moments of stress.

Renner is fair brilliant as the adrenaline-addicted bomb diffuser; I had to ingest the film for a while after I saw it, to reconcile the two distinct halves of the film, but I think they ultimately mesh so well because of how Renner folds the mechanics of bomb diffusion show-cased in the first hour into the deeper examination of his psyche in the second hour. (Immediately after viewing I had a problem with two deaths that I thought were unnecessary and cheap - on further thought, I still think that of one, but not the other.)

The Hurt Locker suffers by occasionally overplaying its hand. As I mentioned above, Bigelow takes two easy shots, one of which she convinces me is worth it at the end and one of which she doesn't. I already know that war is hell and that there are no winners and it's unfair and all of that, and the film does a good job of reinforcing those points; I don't need the extra, predictable, unnecessary death to prove that. I also felt the end was too obvious; I won't go into details, but a quote opens the movie and then you get slammed in the face with it at the end.

Worthy of the Best Picture nom? Absolutely. Worthy of the win? Moreso than Avatar, but District 9 is still my favorite - D9 and Hurt Locker are both movies about war and about marginalized people, but D9 tells a stronger story in a more impressionable way. And it doesn't overload you with shaky-cam.

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