Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Hurt Oscar by Alison Ross (Film Review)

The Hurt Oscar
by Alison Ross

If that piece of shit hack James Cameron wins an Oscar over Kathryn Bigelow and her excruciatingly brilliant film, The Hurt Locker, I will eat my entire DVD and video collection. Which isn't that vast, mind you, but it's enough to kill me. But then, eating just one DVD or video would kill me. Hm. The point is, I don't want to watch movies anymore if Oscar believes that Avatar merits more accolades than The Hurt Locker.

Why am I giving such deep credence to the Oscars anyway? We all know that, like the Nobel Peace Prize, it's just bogus crap. Producers, directors, and actors campaign for the awards, and often the prizes are bestowed upon lesser talent in favor of honoring the status quo. So why I would deign to elevate the Oscars to any sort of credibility I have no clue.

I guess I just want cinematic justice to be served. The Oscars are viewed around the world and have the potent capacity to influence the film diets of millions. And, to be fair, the Oscars HAVE recognized some stellar filmcraft: The English Patient and Slumdog Millionaire are two that vault immediately to mind. And usually there are at least one or two artistic film nominees that lend weight to the otherwise semi-vapid awards show. But a cursory view of the best picture winners from the past 20 years evinces that Mr. Oscar is more interested in recognizing "safe" lightweight film fare rather than trumpeting the values of complex innovative cinema. I mean, come on - FORREST GUMP?!

Now, I have not actually seen Avatar. Some will consider it wickedly hypocritical of me to malign a movie I haven't even seen. But I don't NEED to see it. I already know it SUCKS MAJOR ASS. That's because James Cameron was responsible for the WORST MOVIE IN THE WORLD, The Abyss. And he has directed a few other cinematic offenders, such as Titanic (which is marginally watchable at times) and True Lies. Sure, the Terminator movies are not THAT bad, for what they are, anyway (and they aren't much), and Aliens is generally received favorably, but ultimately, dude has no talent. Well, okay, I take that back: he has an abundance of talent - for MAKING A SHITTY MOVIE.

I hate movies that are so steeped in "stunning" visuals that they sap substance from the plot and render otherwise good actors into maudlin automatons (a peculiar oxymoron if there ever was one). And that's exactly what The Abyss was, and that's exactly what Avatar is. I don't need to see the movie to know this - I relied on a concoction of previews, reports from friends and those of discerning critics to confirm what I had already sharply intuited. I refuse to tear asunder my close relationship with Mr. Ten Buck Greenback just so I can yawn my way through overwrought special effects that submerge all other worthy elements of cinema - you know, like acting and storyline. But hey, that's just me.

I don't mind mainstream movies, don't get me wrong. I am no film snob, though some would pigeonhole me as such. I just happen to like WELL-MADE mainstream movies. Slumdog Millionaire is an example of that genre. It expertly meshed all the facets of what makes a great movie - coherent plot, impressive visuals and cinematography, character development, inspired acting, innovative editing, bouyant musical soundtrack, and so on.

But movies that depend primarily on visuals to propel the story just don't cut it.

Now, to be fair, the CONTENT of Avatar is supposed to be pretty progressive. And I do admire that. The movie deals metaphorically with corporate corruption. But when the visuals overwhelm the message... what's the point? So far I have heard ZERO about anyone being converted by the progressive message of the movie. All I hear about in relation to Avatar is the amazing visuals.

The Hurt Locker, on the other hand, does not subjugate plot to visuals, but rather imbues them with tantamount importance. In fact, the visuals and the plot are so innately intertwined it informs the essence of the film. The movie employs hand-held cameras, a device which gives the movie an intense immediacy. It transports you INTO the film, fusing viewer and actor, heightening the pathos to where you feel the experience is your own.

Some have said that The Hurt Locker features an overtly anti-war posture, whereas others have said it bolsters pro-war sentiment. Both stances flummox me, because I view the movie as almost naggingly neutral toward the ideology of war. Rather, it presents an aspect of warfare – detonating improvised explosive devices (IEDs) – in a painstakingly meticulous way, and does not purport to advance any sort of “agenda.” Of course, in common war-movie parlance, all war films are anti-war, and naturally I myself would embrace fiercely anti-war polemic in any film.

If anything, The Hurt Locker paradoxically inflames our native distaste for war while concurrently fueling respect for the dangerous duties of soldiers. But these are elements that WE glean from the film, rather than being a patent part of Bigelow’s directorial ambition. Bigelow seems only concerned with showcasing lucid verisimilitude, not pandering to political passions.

Of course, I have never seen soldiers as heroes, but rather as pathetic pawns in global games of greed, who nonetheless deserve respect for their humanity. I repudiate warfare in every way and strongly sympathize with the plight of those exploited by it – civilians and soldiers alike. Therefore, for me, a movie that “panders” to our primitive proclivities toward violence would be repulsive, while one that jolts us into a more pacifistic position would be revered.

If the movie has anything to overtly "tell" us, it's that war renders some soldiers into machines who cannot smoothly function without the fuel of combat. By the end of the film, Renner's character is so dazed by his domestic constraints that he has no psychological recourse but to return to the battlefield. But Bigelow is not so much sermonizing here as she is presenting us with Renner's reality.

All of that aside, The Hurt Locker is one of the best movies not just of 2009, but of all times, in my humble estimation. It’s one of the most technically sophisticated films, ironically because it does NOT use technically sophisticated means. The almost rustic technology employed is a most endearing virtue, because it spits in the face of the high-tech ethos so vaunted by Hollywood and brings the medium back to the rudimentary basics, while still managing to “wow” us.

The acting is mystically inspired. The standout, of course, is lead actor Jeremy Renner. He is an anti-hero type who smolders with stoic intensity. He does not resort to typical Hollywood histrionics to convey his character, but rather methodically molds his persona as fastidiously as his character detonates the IEDs.

Obviously the film is set in modern-day Iraq and is intended to invoke scenarios from urban warfare. So not only do we get a stark sense of the perils that darkly decorate the paths of soldiers, but we get a keen feeling for the unfathomable stresses and pressures that Iraqi civilians face. And civilians, of course, are the most flagrantly abused of everyone in warfare.
It’s rather delectably ironic that Bigelow and Cameron are competing with each other for Oscar acclaim, as they are former spouses, and apparently Cameron was the one who convinced Bigelow to take on the The Hurt Locker project. And of course it’s very heartening to see a female director receive so much recognition. Despite the fact that Bigelow’s oeuvre mostly seems to trade in testosterone-fueled fantasies, she is clearly an able artist, staggeringly confident in her considerable capabilities.

With Bigelow’s masterpiece on board the Oscar train, an Avatar triumph will be very hurtful indeed.

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