If there is any justice in Hollywood, this year will be the first year a woman takes home an Oscar for Best Achievement in Directing. And not because she’s a woman, but because of the believability of the scenarios she staged. At times, I thought I was watching a documentary, but the Hurt Locker wasn’t even, as far as I can tell, based on a true story.
It was more a portrait of a man who enjoyed the thrill of disarming bombs in Iraq in 2004, as terrorists were increasing their attacks on civilians and the U.S. military, often using IEDs (improvised explosive devices). It was not just the direction of Jeremy Renner as Staff Sergeant William James where Kathryn Bigelow showed her stuff. It was how she showed his interactions with his fellow soldiers, particularly Sergeant JT Sanborn (Anthony Mackie).
You could see Mackie attempt to keel his cool as snipers fired upon his unit in the desert. You believed his unease–and relief–after he had completed the task. This seem like the way a man would act. When she shows the soldiers interacting with one another, it seems real because this is the way men interact with one another. And by man in this paragraph, I mean our sex not the species.
And that’s where Bigelow really distinguished herself. Like the best of her male counterparts, she can direct the other sex. Watching this film was bit ironic for me, given that just over a month ago, after seeing Julie & Julia and It’s Complicated, films directed by women where the male characters don’t act like male individuals, rather serve as a type of feminine wish-fulfillment, behaving as women want us to behave, I had e-mailed some friends wondering if woman could direct men. Well, Kathryn Bigelow can–and in the most masculine of situations–the heat of battle.
There is much to like about this movie from a production standpoint. From a narrative one, however, it doesn’t really hold together. It is more like a series of vignettes around a common theme used to paint a picture of men in wartime. We see James’ determination to meet the challenge of each bomb, to see the mission through until he has detonated it. He even expresses admiration for the terrorists’ handiwork, their skill at making a explosive device difficult for him to defuse.
And while she barely shows the enemy, Bigelow does show the evil they do, murdering a boy and mutilating his corpse which they have rigged with explosives, locking explosives onto a man so he can’t remove this “suicide vest.”
Above all, she shows the tenacity of men in wartime. We admire them even as we see their flaws. She appreciates the work they do and the toll it takes on them.
While I’ve seen the work of a number of accomplished directors this past year, for the Oscar, it’s not even a contest. Or shouldn’t be. Kathryn Bigelow has earned this honor. The Hurt Locker is one brilliant piece of work.