‘Hurt Locker’ generating major Oscar buzz

By Christopher Smith,
Posted Jan. 21, 2010, at 4:51 p.m.

On DVD and Blu-ray disc

THE HURT LOCKER, directed by Katherine Bigelow, written by Mark Boal, 127 minutes, rated R.

Katherine Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker” is just out on DVD and Blu-ray disc, which offers an opportunity for those interested in seeing one of last year’s best films and especially for those who follow the Academy Awards. Considering that the movie almost certainly will snag nominations for Best Picture and Best Director when the nominees are released on Feb. 2, now is a good time to see the movie — and to understand why it’s generating such a buzz.

Bigelow based the film on Mark Boal’s script, and what they created is an uneasy insight into war and the American soldier that isn’t the norm, but the exception.

The film’s focus is on Staff Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner in an Academy Award-worthy performance), who has a girlfriend (sort of) and a child back home, but who comes to the Iraq war pumped for what it might offer him — a rush on one level, certain death on the other. While James never acknowledges either in the movie, the reckless way he behaves as a man who defuses bombs suggests someone on a pleasurable suicide mission.

James joins Sgt. JT Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Spc. Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) after their team leader (Guy Pearce) dies from an explosion in the film’s opening moments. Almost immediately, when the first set of bombs present themselves to James and his company, he eschews protocol. Sure, he goes through the motions of gearing up in a protective suit, but once he’s far enough away from his team and is upon the bombs he must diffuse, off comes the suit, out comes the ego, and James is in there snipping at wires as if his life didn’t depend on a successful outcome.

The suspense Bigelow wrings from James’ carelessness is impressive in its intensity, particularly since surrounding the men are a growing number of locals who hate Americans. Any one of them could hold the detonator that would blow up the bombs. As such, Bigelow is alive behind the camera. She weaves between the crowds, catching glimpses of contempt while a seemingly oblivious James does his thing — and while a worried and furious Sanborn and Eldridge try to handle a mounting situation that could be fatal for them all.

And yet it isn’t — at least not this time — which complicates matters beyond reason. Is there a method to James’ madness — is he a genius? Or is he just mad and lucky as hell? It doesn’t matter, not even when Sanborn rails at him. Soaked in an adrenaline high, James is fully alive. He treats each scene in which he puts his life in danger as if he’s mainlining the greatest drug in the world — war.

And that’s the crux of Bigelow’s film. At home, James’ life is depicted as sterile, meaningless, dull. How can he get excited by the cereal aisle when he knows he has the skills to repeatedly cheat death? In Iraq, it’s no video game. The bombs and the bullets are real, and for him, there’s nothing better. As he plays with his infant son in one of the movie’s key scenes, he shares with him a truth: he has only one love in his life. Only one thing matters to him.

Nobody should think it’s the child.

Grade: A

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Also on DVD and Blu-ray disc

MICHAEL JACKSON’S THIS IS IT, directed by Kenny Ortega, rated PG, 112 minutes.

What becomes clear the moment we see Michael Jackson in the opening moments of “This Is It,” the documentary that chronicles the intense rehearsals of Jackson’s 50 London-based concerts that failed to take place due to the performer’s drug-induced death in June, is that “This Is It” the movie never should have happened.

At least not under these circumstances.

On the other hand, if what audiences see here is any indication, the concerts absolutely should have happened. And what a shame that they didn’t. Everything about this movie reinforces the reasons the world fell in love with Michael Jackson when he was a child, and then later when he realized unparalleled superstardom as a young adult in the wake of his hugely popular albums “Off the Wall” and, most notably, “Thriller.”

Watching the documentary is a curiosity not only for the insider’s glimpse we’re offered into how Jackson and his director Kenny Ortega (also the film’s director) were staging the shows, but because Jackson’s talent is so massive, his ability to thrill and to touch remained enough to quash, at least for two hours, all the gossip, allegations and lawsuits that plagued him for years.

For too many of those years, it seemed that Michael Jackson already had died, at least creatively. He produced only four albums after “Thriller,” and while “Bad” remains the best of the lot, each album (with some singular exceptions) showcased a disappointing, encroaching repetition that made him less relevant and cutting-edge.

And so what “This Is It” accomplishes is critical not only to preserving his memory, but also to galvanizing his myth. Onstage, Jackson still moonwalks, still thrashes in white tornadoes of dry ice, still brandishes his signature moves, but there are new moves to be had here and a voice that is still strong.

At age 50, Jackson’s lithe body doesn’t make sense — his altered face and lighter skin color aside, everything about him is just as fluid as we remember. Nothing about him signals an addiction to drugs. Watching the movie, you can’t help wondering how he possibly could nail such ridiculously intricate dance moves had he been on drugs. It doesn’t add up, yet there he goes, leaping across the enormous stage as if invisible strings were attached to his back.

About that stage. When he’s alone at the center of it, that smile on his face is genuine. A thousand lighted, whirling distractions assail him, but he remains the exclamation point in the middle of the room. It’s bizarre. Though he’d been away from the music industry for years, the fact that he became known as the King of Pop now is without argument. Nobody ever did it like this.

In the end, “This Is It” crushes the viewer with a jumble of feelings — sadness, joy, fascination, exuberance, awe and then, just as it all was coming together, tragedy. The movie’s genius is that it offers no narration, nothing that connects us from point A to the inevitable point D. That would have been an intrusion.

Instead, we’re allowed to be voyeurs, and what we see throughout is a superstar who is funny, focused, loving, firm and polite. Here is a performer who was on the cusp of realizing what likely would have been his third professional peak. The first came when the Jackson Five hit the scene, the second came with the advent of “Thriller,” and now there is this concert that nearly was but never was. Deliberately designed to celebrate all that Jackson gave us during his 40-plus-year career, the show also reveals the potential rebirth that was to come should he have lived to enjoy it.

Grade: A

WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog, DVD giveaways and movie reviews. Smith’s reviews appear Fridays and weekends in Lifestyle. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.

http://bangordailynews.com/2010/01/21/living/lsquohurt-lockerrsquo-generating-major-oscar-buzz/ printed on December 26, 2014