June 12, 2010

Hurt Locker

Tags: General

Possible Spoilers Below

Last night I watched Hurt Locker for the first time. I was looking forward to it. I had heard so many reviews and it had won 6 Oscars. However, to put it politely, I didn’t like it. I consider it well below average. Both the major and minor characters are unbelievable and fit neatly into standard movie stereotypes (“he’s a maverick, doing dangerous things - but he gets results!”). The scenarios in which the characters find themselves seem unlikely. One character carjacks a local and travels across Baghdad, then runs back to the base. At another point, 3 characters search for enemy bombers in the backstreets by themselves and unknown to their support. Coming to a three-way junction, they split up! The script is often heavy-handed, letting the audience know exactly what they are supposed to be thinking. For instance, when confronted with a possibly involuntary suicide bomber, the interpreter repeatedly reminds us “he’s a good guy”. Once is required, maybe twice to stress the point. However, the many repetitions beyond that are just clunky. At once crucial point we are told “he has 4 children”. Are we perhaps supposed to empathise with him?

The plot is quite episodic. This got me thinking. It might be that the story’s ambition was neutered by making it a movie in the first place. The story has potential and maybe many of its problems (heavy handedness, stock characters) could be solved by taking longer to tell it - much longer. It is very hard to fit a complete interesting story with detailed real characters into the 2 hour timeframe of a film. I doubt even extending the running length to 3 hours, the extreme end of theatrical releases, would give enough room to properly tell Hurt Locker’s story. Perhaps it should be a TV series.

I remember a time not long ago when the 4 or 6 hours of a mini-series were the longest storylines around. Now there have been quite a few TV series with continuous storylines. Babylon 5 was the first I remember, but since then there have been the excellent The Wire and The Sopranos among many others. Generation Kill told a similar story to Hurt Locker more successfully over 7 hours. After watching these, other TV shows with their “everything resolved in 40 minutes” episodes seem inferior (Dr Who is suffering from this at the moment). I am not suggesting film is inferior in general, just that it has its limits and most of the best films don’t try to do too much. For great characters and great stories the extra time afforded by TV pays great dividends.