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Friday, August 29, 2008
Bigelow's Hurt Locker
"A thrilling combat film" conjuring John Wayne

From The Economist:

With one exception, films about the Iraq war have done badly in American cinemas. The exception was Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, a fiercely anti-war film made the year after the invasion. Though Disney refused to distribute it, the movie still made a fortune. But the films that came after it have mostly bombed at the box office, a fact that has led film financiers to regard the war with a superstition as potent as that which has actors referring to Macbeth as “the Scottish play”.

Why is this so? Persuading audiences to flock to a film about an unpopular war is obviously difficult. Comparisons with Vietnam don’t really work. Television coverage of the Vietnam war was so intensive that Hollywood did not bother to make many films about it while it was going on. (John Wayne’s The Green Berets was released in 1968 as a corrective, it was hoped, to the TV coverage that was turning the country against the war.) But, with Iraq, that situation is reversed. The New York Times has reported that the three major American television networks logged only about 180 minutes of weekday evening reporting on the war in the first half of this year (compared to 1,157 minutes for all of 2007), and that CBS News no longer has a full-time correspondent in Iraq.

Film-makers are trying to fill the gap but their efforts, though worthy, are often depressing—and certainly not designed to pull in 14-year-olds at the mall. The best of the recent lot are Kimberly Peirce’s Stop-Loss (2008), in which a decorated soldier is ordered back to Iraq against his will, and Redacted (2007), Brian De Palma’s re-enactment of an atrocity. The latter film, made with Canadian money, uses faux video clips to tell the awful tale of the rape and murder of a young Iraqi girl by American soldiers. Stop-Loss and In the Valley of Elah (2007), about a former military cop trying to find out who murdered his son after he returned from Iraq, were both made by studio speciality divisions created for modestly budgeted films, both of which have since been folded into their parent companies, Paramount Pictures and Warner Bros...

...Will Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker, premiering at the Venice Film Festival, succeed in disarming audience resistance? About a bomb squad defusing “improvised explosive devices” planted by insurgents in Baghdad, it is a thrilling combat film from its first image of a bomb-handling robot racing through the rubble. Then a new squad leader walks in, and the film has a hero. Staff Sergeant William James, played by Jeremy Renner (pictured above), is a wild man addicted to the adrenalin rush of doing the most dangerous job in the world. He is a character who can embody the central myth of American cinema because his job is saving lives, not taking them.

“James is the man who walks down that street in the direction that everyone else is running from,” says Ms Bigelow. “He has an iconic aura. But those traits exert a heavy price.” By making a film about an unpopular war that still gives the audience someone to root for, she may have struck gold. Perhaps the return of John Wayne is what people have been waiting for.

Posted by Geoff at 1:06 PM CDT
Updated: Friday, August 29, 2008 1:11 PM CDT
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