Monday, August 31, 2009

Hurt So Good

The fact that another Bank Holiday weekend was almost upon us slipped my mind until Friday evening when the news reported that just about every major road in the country was choked with traffic that was at a virtual standstill. Initially it didn’t make any real difference to what I already had planned but come Saturday, once it was apparent there were far less people around this way, I figured it would be nice to be out and about enjoying the sunshine.

While it was nice to wander along the near deserted byways, disturbing they eventually all led to streets clotted with the dregs of tourist season. Lumbering along and showing indifference to how their mewling spawn blithely scampered in everyone’s way and annoying the locals who had annoying turned out with the sort of nasty yappy little dogs that, if taken to the park where they belonged, would be used as sex toys by larger breeds. Struggling through them for all of three minutes, to get away I ducked into the nearest cinema.

At that time of day I suspected it would have less people in it than the average coffee shop. Though I may have been off in my calculation there was still enough room for everyone to keep their distance. Luckily, now that the holidays are on the wane, better fare than the typical mindless summer blockbuster is beginning to arrive. Looking for something more relaxing than being caught outside on the streets, I was just in time for the next performance of The Hurt Locker.

Because nowadays I only tend to want to mix with the proles if it’s absolutely necessary, watching one of the increasingly rare big screen spectaculars that was devised to be more than just an eye poaching, ear bleeding experience, ordinarily I would have waited until the film was available on shiny disc. About twenty minutes in I was beginning to wish I was watching it at home, simply because I’d be able to press the pause button every few scenes and spark up. As it was I had to sit there without respite and have my nerves shredded for the next two hours.

Unlike Sammy Rice, David Farrer’s tortured bomb disposal expert in Powell & Pressburger’s The Small Back Room, Staff Sergeant William James in The Hurt Locker is saddled with none of his qualms. Whether the near suicidal acts of bravado he displays when it comes to disabling the numerous Improvised Explosive Devices are clear signs of a death wish or simply the next fix for an adrenaline junkie are left for the audience to decide, although opening her film with a quote from The New York Times’ former war correspondent, Kathryn Bigelow specifically lingers on the finals words: “war is a drug.”

Breaking up the narrative into little more than a series of vignettes, The Hurt Locker perfectly illustrated the day–to–day existence the bomb–tech unit. Happy to get through the day still in one piece as they count down to the end of their rotation, the two other members of James’ team neither shared his compulsions and become so unnerved by his need to create additional risks they are pushed to consider killing him and making it look like the result of enemy action simply to save their own hides.

The real genius of The Hurt Locker was that screenwriter Mark Boal had been a war reporter whose article about the murder of an Iraq veteran published in Playboy formed the basis of In The Valley Of Elah. Like Evan Wright before him who, after being hooked up with the United States Marine Corps’ 1st Reconnaissance Battalion for their push north into Iraq, wrote a series of dispatches for Rolling Stone before the eventual publication of Generation Kill, Boal spent two weeks with an elite EOD bomb disposal squad operating in Baghdad during 2004.

His experiences informed a script based on real observations rather than the useless political agenda of some wishy-washy, bleeding-heart Hollywood liberal. So by the time the credits rolled, rather than staying in my seat and shaking my head at such woebegone nonsense, I was stumbled through the door, scrabbling for my packet of smokes as I emerged blinking into the sunlight.

Yesterday, because the early morning overcast sky suggested that any idea of venturing out would no doubt be met with being pelted with rain I stayed in and caught up with In The Loop. It hadn’t been some part of a big plan to go from an Iraq War film devoid of a political agenda to a political black comedy that satirized the lead up to the Iraq conflict without specifically mentioning it. But by now it was apparent that the Bank Holiday weekend was upon us. With two channels simply giving up and stripping Carry On movies into their schedules, the only other alternative for entertainment would be to go out and pay somebody to repeatedly kick me in the face.

It may not have been as consistently funny as I expected, simply because the extended running time couldn’t sustain the breakneck hilarity and undiluted vitriol of a typical episode of The Thick Of It. If the sequences set in Washington DC proved to be the main letdown, In The Loop was still far better than the high profile, bigger budget American comedies filled with useless needy fucks played by useless needy fucks like Ben Stiller.

Any film that allows an enraged Peter Capaldi to spit, “Allow me to pop a jaunty little bonnet on your purview and ram it up your shitter with a lubricated horse cock!” into a government wonk’s face is all right in my book. Although it’s a shame there wasn’t room to aim the marvellously offensive “Tucker’s Law” outtake from The Thick Of It at one of the gormless agenda-setting Washington hawks whose existence simply proves that the experiment that is America has become an abject failure.

If you take exception to that then the only thing left to say is, “Fuckety-bye!”


At 7:16 am, Blogger Stephen Gallagher said...

Definitely with you on THE HURT LOCKER. Serious without being worthy... it pushed all the buttons you need a movie to push without even looking like a movie.

I saw DISTRICT 9 last weekend. Thought it was kinda unique and remarkable... uncompromisingly South African in its vibe, the still-raw wound of apartheid reimagined as SF. In style it resembles 28 DAYS LATER without the wholesale DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS lift.

But after all that handeld digital camerawork, I need to find some classical-style filmmaking for my next one.

At 2:33 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

Reading some of the American reviews and commentary it was interesting to see how The Hurt Locker has unnerved some people because it has no agenda. Instead it accepts that the situation exists and shows the people doing the work they were trained for, whether they were straight arrows or a little flaky.

But even then it’s a little more complicated. Just when you think Jeremy Renner’s character is simply verging on batshit crazy there was the marvellous sequence in the desert firefight where, acting as a spotter, James rather tenderly gives his sergeant the OJ. That was such a beautiful moment of men in combat.

And it was great to see Kathryn Bigelow back on form. After being put off by Strange Days, the last time I’d seen any of her work were the episodes of Homicide: Life on the Street she directed.

I’ve seen the trailer for District 9. It opens here this Friday, along with (500) Days of Summer. Now that the kids are heading back to school we’re finally getting better fare. So, that’s a result.

It’s gratifying that these far more intelligent and inventive low-/relatively low-budget movies are getting an audience and being recognised. I’m not saying everything should be made for little or no money, but when studios are blowing well over $100m on less than average movies, especially unfunny/juvenile comedies, then something is seriously wrong.


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