Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Why The Hurt Locker DESERVED To Win


There was a general uproar at the Oscar party I was at when The Hurt Locker won for Best Picture. Everyone was happy with Kathryn Bigelow's win - it was a woman's turn - but better than Avatar?

My answer is yes. She also deserved best director and not just because it was her turn. If a man had done the same movie, he would have also deserved to win. (How funny to say that?)

Avatar was great. It hit all the major Save The Cat story beats, so much so that there was a document circling in Hollywood for a while that took the one-page for Pocahontas and switched the names to the characters in Avatar - revealing that they are both the exact same movie. (If you want it post a comment requesting it- and if you have clicked "follow" on the right side of this screen, I'll be able to shoot you an email with it).

And there are rewards for following those screenplay rules - they make people feel comfortable, and those people reward you by making your movie the biggest selling movie ever.

The Hurt Locker didn't follow all of those expected beats, in fact everytime I had an expectation it soon - literally - exploded right before my eyes. I was thinking "no way is Guy Pearce going to die, he's the most famous person on screen!" And then his head blew up in his helmet. Same when Ralph Fiennes scene came - and went. I was waiting for the big emotional speech by the lead actor, that didn't come either, instead, with no speech at all, we saw him walking through a grocery store in rural America and knew, this guy ain't gonna make it. In a war movie! It's the grocery store that does him in. But okay, enough of that. It was fresh in it's approach, great.

Here's what made it so special. In the space of two hours, it captured who we are as a country so perfectly that you could put it in a time capsule and in 20 years take it out to see who we are as a country, right down to our dialogue traveling to Iraq so that an Iraqi kid selling DVD's thinks it's cool to call someone else, "my nigga." And it created a character who should have been called Captain America, because he was America - brave, at times heroic, but brash and so addicted to war that he can't appreciate what is right in front of him.

And I know Avatar had a good anti-imperialism message and was all for saving the environment and that was great, but the bad guys were BAD guys, and the good guys were heroes through and through. The hero of The Hurt Locker, was smart, good at what he does, but, completely crazy. And it takes us the whole movie to gradually dig beneath all of those other layers to realize that he's crazy. Real bravery as a filmmaker is making the hero of your movie the biggest lunatic. It's Eugene O'Neil's "The Iceman Cometh." All along we've been dancing to the song of a pied piper who is leading us off the edge of a cliff.

And then without any commentary on war at all, just through this one character, we get it. War IS crazy. It IS a drug, a dangerous, stupid, 'why do we get into these messes drug.

But okay... I'll give you what your about to say - but that's the SCREENPLAY not the movie. So I'll add - to do an independently financed war film and be in such physically demanding conditions while shooting and get the tone so pitch-perfect, and real, and adrenaline laced and put the audience in that world in an an almost visceral way is hard. I, argue, that it is harder to do than to create a whole new 3D Pandora when you have a half a billion dollars (!), the absolute best special effects team in the world, and you're shooting in comfortable soundstages, and doing your effects in cushy production bays, and you can always add or take something away in post. I am arguing this as someone who has done all special effects projects (albeit music videos), and I have put Common & Macy Gray in an all CG created "space," Dashboard Confessional inside "sound" and taken ODB out the pen and inserted him into the movie Dolemite.

Avatar is still a fantastic achievement, but to everyone who is going on and on about it changing the face of filmmaking, I just have to say I just saw Alice In Wonderland - all 3D, most of it occurring in this bizarre over-the-looking glass, all CGI world with talking animals and beautiful dense forests and castles and I thought, if this is just three months after Avatar, then Avatar didn't change the face of filmmaking so much as being the first to have the kind of budget (and a good script) with which to implement that kind of filmmaking.

...But, that doesn't make Hurt Locker worse because it wasn't set in Pandora.


  1. Hey Nzingha! I'd like to see the Pocahontas/John Smith document!

    I had been rooting for "The Hurt Locker" since I saw it last year (on accident), and before anyone was talking about it as the little-movie-that-could. I was unfamiliar with Kathryn Bigelow, and the movie, so you could believe my suprise when the credits rolled. I said aloud: "A female directed this??" WOW!". Then I researched her to discover she liked doing "manish films". Anyway, I agree totally. Avatar was awesome, but a familiar story (although fabulously told!).


  2. Sorry! Hope you see this :-/