Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Hurt Locker: Revenge of the Critics

The four-trillion dollar Transformers movie marks the first time in memory that a truly bad film has lived up to its hype as a truly bad film, and then some. Michael Bay's latest offering is an unapologetic summer blockbuster that is currently accomplishing the heroic deed of making tons of money while simultaneously making no sense at all. It is already the biggest hit of the year, and what a pity.

Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen is two and a half-hours too long - without beginning, middle, (or especially) end in sight. You could possibly rearrange many sequences and fanboys wouldn't notice. Forget narrative logic or basic screenwriting rules, but since when was it okay for an action movie to not have a climax? And though occasionally the expensive visual effects resolve themselves into something of intelligence or interest, most of the time the action is at so close a range I couln't tell if this was an Autobot or a Decepticon I was looking at. Not that the movie makes you care. Characters have the depth and reality of, I don't know, childhood toys, and one wonders if there was even a working script for the actors. LeBouf and Duhamel had a lot of lines like 'This is bad!', which was sometimes alternated with 'This is NOT good.' What an awful, awful film. For the geeks, though, there is Megan Fox. For the rest of us....well, it helped to know that one hundred and fifty minutes do pass, however painfully. Revenge is not sweet.

In these dire times, critics have searched high and low for an action film that can answer to the inequities of Michael Bay's disastrously bloated mojo-vehicle - and they have heard a low guttural growl in the form of The Hurt Locker, a Venice/Toronto champion that is currently going into wide release.

Director Kathryn Bigelow's look at an elite bomb disposal squad in a scorched, shattered and war-torn Iraq is a master-class in discipline, pacing, and atmosphere. Most bombs are dismantled before they can be detonated, but here are one hundred and twenty minutes of thumping terror. At the center of this unexpectedly meditative action thriller is a fearsome, commanding performance from Jeremy Renner, and I would love to see some recognition for it as awards season approaches.

Quietly anti-war in its own way, Bigelow's film is also vastly more critic-friendly than Bay's - it looks well-made and inexpensive, has a no-name cast and is working its way into wide release on word of mouth. With the bonus of political relevance and a woman filmmaker at the helm, The Hurt Locker is in every way the antithesis of ersatz auteur Bay, who himself represents the antithesis of meaning, existence, and civilization. Bigelow has banished all the shock and awe, disinterring a shell of stealthy silence in which we feel the sweat on every brow and hear the woosh of every bullet and sense the presence of death. Majestic in the minutiae, The Hurt Locker shows us why the principal virtues of the greatest summer blockbusters ought to be be rhythm and restraint.


P. said...

You just made my dull Tuesday morning so much nicer. Thoroughly entertained by the bit on Transformers, and looking forward to seeing The Hurt Locker! :)

Sumit said...

I have taken a pledge to not watch any Transformers movie, simply because it is an aberration of the cartoon series that I remember. But that apart, yes the direction, or lack thereof, of movies like these is meant to numb you into acceptance instead of any kind of 'poetry in motion'. I wonder how far the director himself is responsible a an auteur he doesn't seem to be. Moreover the lack of structure, climax, meaning, is essentially a failure athe very script level. These movies are destined to be duds. Yet of course they make monies galore.
The so called action sequences are becoming more and more deceptive in these large budget movies. Their seems to be no shame in having visual sequences that are blatantly meant to confuse and perplex and thereby throw a cover of sophistry to titillate the vacant audience. According to me action is a dish best served in wide, or mid shots and not these extreme close-ups that we have now, not to mention the camera that cannot stay still.

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