I always enjoy a good war movie. I rarely need to hear reviews before I’ve already pre-ordered my ticket in my favorite seat at the Arclight Cinema, used my member points to get a concession stand certificate, and invited a few of my closest friends for a guys night out. I can easily point out a great war movie from each decade that Hollywood has been pumping them out. Any learned film student will tell you that the films they are asked to watch to learn the craft of filmmaking will undoubtedly contain “The Birth of a Nation”, “Battleship Potemkin”, “The General”, and “Gone with the Wind”. Moving up through the years, I would include “All Quiet on the Western Front”, “Sergeant York”, “They Were Expendable”, “The Bridge on the River Kwai”, and “The Longest Day”. And bringing us up to the modern era, I would add “Patton”, “Apocalypse Now”, “Ran”, and “Full Metal Jacket”. In each of these films, and many more too numerous to name, the intense feeling of being in war is wonderfully conveyed. So it was with great expectation that I headed into the local cineplex to see Kathryn Bigelow’s magnum opus, “The Hurt Locker”.
This is the tale of the U.S. Army’s elite bomb disposal unit, the EOD, operating in Iraq for the last 39 days of their tour. SFC William James (Jeremy Renner) is a bomb disposal expert and he is replacing Sgt Matt Thompson, a long-standing member of the team who was recently killed disposing of an improvised explosive device. He comes in overseeing the squad, consisting of Sergeant JT Sanborn and Specialist Owen Eldridge.
It’s the way that Bigelow portrays him that pulls me out of the enjoyment of this film on the level I was expecting. For the first half of the film, SFC James comes across as a Rambo-type character. He has little to no regard for he or his squads safety. He bursts into each bomb situation in a reckless manner, despite the consternation of the others. He rips off protective armor, deliberately rushes into a situation with a supposed live and active bomb, without taking precautionary measures, and disobeys the advice of those around him in order to experience the thrill and rush of the job. Now, the problem I had was, this wasn’t very believable to me. Why wasn’t he reprimanded? Why, if he is suffering from such reckless behavior due to PTSD, wasn’t he removed from his position? Would this really be allowed to go on, when so many other soldiers lives are at stake? I was happy to see that the 2nd half of the film redeemed, to sorts, the qualms I had regarding the first half. The intrigue and suspense seemed to rise, and the access into the mind of the character was a welcome respite from his actions. However, for me, I felt the characters didn’t particularly have much of an arc, nor did I find there to be a substantial display of resolve. That being said, I did enjoy the atmosphere of the film. And the sets and situations, aside from the aforementioned, were splendidly directed. Unfortunately, I don’t think this film by the very talented Kathryn Bigelow will see a spot on my list of top war films in the future.
Rating = *** / 5
Apart from “Kill Bill”, I have thoroughly enjoyed the films of Quentin Tarantino. My two favorite works of his are “Jackie Brown” and “True Romance” (granted he didn’t direct “True Romance”, but he wrote it, and that is part of his works, natch). When any person sits to watch a film from this talented filmmaker, they are without a doubt going to witness a true work of passion. Tarantino is no slouch, rather he is a tenured scholar of the filmmaking lexicon. The homages to other films, stars, and musical numbers are consistently peppered throughout his bodies of work. For that sheer fact alone, viewing his films are akin to attending the most engrossing of film schools.
All that being said, I have to be honest. For some unknown reason, I had zero desire to see the latest contribution to the oeuvre of Mr. Tarantino. Perhaps it had to do with my dislike of the “Kill Bill” films? Perhaps it’s because I’ve had my fill of overly grisly films as of late, and I’d heard that “Basterds” fit that bill? Perhaps it’s simply because I have a busy schedule and find little time to see films I’m not entirely enthralled about? Nonetheless, when the film garnered an Academy Award nomination, I decided to view the film. Let me say, I am certainly glad that I did.
The story is that of a Jewish cinema owner (played excellently by Mélanie Laurent) in occupied Paris is forced to host a Nazi movie premiere where the führer himself is slated to attend. Meanwhile, a rag tag group of American soldiers, brutal in their own conquering way, are called the Basterds, and they hatch a plan to overtake the Nazis in this small little theater. The only thing standing in their way is the Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz in a simply mezmerizing role). Many have noted that this is Tarantino’s homage to the classic Spaghetti Western, set during WWII instead of the old west. I couldn’t agree more.
I found this film quite entertaining and suspenseful. Being from Tarantino, it should come as no surprise that the film relies heavily on clever dialogue rather than grandiose action sequences. What little action there is is brutally gruesome and gory. For those who do not like foreign films, be aware that most of the film is subtitled, as the movie takes place in Nazi occupied France. If you can get past that, however, you will find that the story is very clever, full of twists, and intrigue. It kept me from figuring out the end, which is saying a lot if you knew how many films I’ve seen. When the ending did appear, however, it was depressing and downright hopeless. Acting in the film is stellar, and the lack of action plays exceptionally well, no doubt a testament to the writing prowess of Tarantino. While I could have taken a little less of the actual displays of graphic violence (after all, I am a huge fan of the Hitchcockian way of leaving a little to the imagination) sprinkled here and there, I can happily say that the film is deserving of any and all praise it has received.
Rating = **** / 5