The Hurt Locker (USA, 2009, K. Bigelow)
And Dan Begins:
What is challenging about this is that it does not play out in the character as the cliche "adrenaline junkie." Contrary to both the quotation intertitled at the outset of the film and the accusation of his comrade whom he accidentally shoots, the protagonist is not a thrill seeker, a death cheater, one of those risk takers who take risks for the erotic rush. As the best exchange of dialogue in the film explicitly addresses, the motivation of the man is a mystery. Yet, he is hardly some sort of two-dimensional, professional explosive dismantling machine. He displays deep compassion in a number of ways as well as irrational impulses. So, he is complex and the ambiguity of what makes him tick is not easily dismissed.
The Hurt Locker is not even a war movie, the gun battle scenes and military semiotics notwithstanding. It's about a bomb squad and the war setting is simply an ongoing situation for the squad to do its nail-bitting thing. I exaggerate but only slightly. The interpersonal dynamics within the three members of the squad do enter into their differences as individuals, but not as soldiers; i.e., as representations of different conceptions of military duty. The fundamental absence of the enemy's subjectivity in the film- already criticized on ideological grounds - further removes military duty from the interiority of the characters, rendering them yet another crew of swat team cops bogged down on the generically wrong side of town.
You hit the head of pretty much every nail I want to pound.
I liked this film and yet was disappointed by it. Much like the terrorist thriller Day Night Day Night, stylistically The Hurt Locker is damned fine, particularly as a textbook exercise in tension building. There's little doubt that Bigelow knows how to craft a riveting scene. And she follows in the footsteps of so many other directors who have set their films in contemporary "real life" war settings by employing a highly effective faux documentary style of filmmaking. The film's grittiness and attention to detail impressed. I really felt like I was there on the ground in Iraq.
And yet...I have to wonder, why set the film in Iraq when you could have achieved the same level of intensity by placing these characters in a decaying urban setting and giving them similar sorts of law enforcement type jobs? If you are going to use a controversial war like this, why not take advantage of the opportunity to stand up on your hind legs and say something about it? Would it have been too much to ask that the filmmakers use these soldier's jobs as bomb disposal experts as a metaphorical examination of the American presence in this land? I guess so, as instead of insight, critique or even (god forbid) patriotic clap trap, the filmmakers treat the war like a Hitchcockian McGuffin, important to get the action rolling, but ultimately insignificant. Much like the film itself, I'm afraid.
As this is the second time you have compared The Hurt Locker to Day Night Day Night, I wish to agree with your main point about how they are similarly acontextual in an ultimately unacceptable way. But I also want to assert that the latter is a much more powerful film. DNDN is much more tightly focused, in every sense of the word. I'd have to go back and consult my review but I believe I categorized DNDN as a horror film. The technical manipulation if the audience is at an extremely high level and the experience is remarkably disturbing. THL is quite down-on-the-ground gripping but does not get under your skin like DNDN does.
No argument from me on that front. It's been over a year since I saw DYDN, and there are several scenes that spring immediately to mind when I think about it. It has been a few months since I saw THL, and it is already fading into mental obscurity.
For those who still care, here is the trailer.