Rating: The Good – 75.8 Genre: War, Drama Duration: 131 mins Director: Kathryn Bigelow Stars: Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty
Kathryn Bigelow had already proven her action chops with the brilliant Point Break so she was always a good candidate to direct a film about a bomb disposal unit in Iraq. However, in The Hurt Locker she and writer Mark Boal take a more pensive approach and focus on the mental battlefield that the soldiers fight internally. Think The Thin Red Line without all the monologues or broad sweeping references to nature and you’ve got the idea. For the most part, it works thanks to the compelling performance of Jeremy Renner as the ace explosives disarmer who is addicted to the rush he gets from his job. The film follows him and the two other men of his unit, the equally excellent Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty, as they are called to disarm a variety of devices. However, the unnecessary danger that he puts himself and those around him in strains relations between him and his men resulting in a few close calls, both professional and personal.
Bigelow effectively contrasts the lulls and boredom of downtime with the fear and tension of battle and her handling of the latter scenes is especially fantastic. One scene in particular where Renner and Mackie’s characters coordinate their efforts against a sniper threat under a baking hot desert sun works beautifully. However, despite the plaudits this film received, there are problems. Boal based this film on a series of Vanity Fair articles and unfortunately he never really stepped back far enough from that source material to tie them together into a single story driven by a discernible plot. As such, the story comes across as a fascinating collection of anecdotes. Furthermore, their attempt to engender the proceedings with a sense of purpose towards the end comes off as rather clumsy with Renner’s character inexplicably getting involved in a couple of incidents that ultimately bear no consequence to the rest of the sequences. That said, because the individual sequences are such a treat to watch and the acting is universally first class, The Hurt Locker remains a richly entertaining experience.
Rating: The Good – 76.5 Genre: Drama Duration: 106 mins Director: Ryan Fleck Stars: Ryan Gosling, Anthony Mackie, Shareeka Epps
Half Nelson is a lesson in the fundamentals of film making where the complexity lies only in the subtext. Ryan Gosling stars as an inner-city high school teacher who is steadily failing his battle with drug addiction. His natural charm and unorthodox teaching methods help him engage with his 7th grade students but as his inability to break free of his own rut bleeds through into his lessons he connects with one of those students (played by Shareeka Epps) who herself feels trapped in a cycle.
There is no shying away from drug addiction here but nor does it attempt to hit you over the head with it. Instead, the complexity of personhood and the troubled inertia of both characters (as the different sides to their personalities break through) dominates the tone and pace of this film. The charm of both Gosling and Epps, both individually but particularly when they play off each other, is what makes this otherwise gloomy film so endearing and despite or because of its realness, the film seduces you into their worlds. Though Epps’ character does at some point interpret her feelings towards Gosling as romantic, this is by no means a Lolita story as ultimately it becomes a tale of friendship and the support that one offers the other. Gosling is magnificent as the hip but hugely depressed teacher and though films like The Believer had already shown us the depth of this man’s talent, this is the film that cemented his reputation as one of the (if not the) standout actor of his generation. Epps is just as good and for the film to have worked it was important that was the case. She too belies her even younger years to show a level of maturity and intelligence not seen in many more seasoned actors. And as if two tremendous performances wasn’t enough, Anthony Mackie weighs in with an equally layered performance as a competing influence on Epps’s character.
Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden’s screenplay is wonderfully incisive and together with Fleck’s fly-on-the-wall type direction, full of soft focus close ups and hand held pan shots, they are as responsible for the subtle power of this film as the searing performances are. A final word should go to Boden’s editing and that resonating soundtrack which is seamlessly incorporated into the on-screen drama.