Lita On Film

Posts Tagged ‘Jeremy Renner’

The Hurt Locker (2009)

In Film Reviews on March 24, 2010 at 6:38 pm

The Hurt Locker stars Jeremy Renner (Dahmer) as William James, an American soldier in Iraq with a special

Renner in "The Hurt Locker"

mission: defusing the ubiquitous IEDs (improvised explosive devices) that litter Baghdad’s ghost-town streets.  With his two partners, anxious Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and terrified Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) James readily accepts every assignment his team is given, even when it means placing all three of their lives in serious jeopardy.  When removing a dozen bombs from the trunk of an abandoned car early in the film, James removes his protective helmet; is this because he is so foolhardy that he feels invincible, or because he is simply at peace with the fact that his death could be only seconds away? His partners, particularly Mackie’s character, seem equally unnerved by both possibilities.  The question is whether James is compelled to seek out life-and-death situations because of some perverse obsession, or whether he is simply in touch with the reality of the war on a level few of us care to imagine.

Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar-winner is set in Iraq in 2004, only a year after the war’s inception.  However, it is this strange, new, disjointed image of the war that translates into what New Yorker critic David Denby calls “the most skillful and emotionally involving picture yet made about the conflict.”  Unlike Rendition and other star-studded films ostensibly about the war (the 2004 remake of The Manchurian Candidate comes to mind) The Hurt Locker has no interest in advancing a specific agenda, political or otherwise.  Rather, it is that rare war picture that actually maintains its focus onthe strange mixture of the frightful and the quotidian that its subjects, the soldiers, must endure.

Bigelow’s film doesn’t veer into either melodrama or propoganda, which is itself a remarkable achievement considering its subject matter.  However, what really keeps the narrative taut to the point of anguish are the prolonged, real-time scenes in which James and his partners are either defusing bombs or being attacked by insurgents.  There’s no John Williams score here, no platitudes or hystrionics–indeed, British leading man Ralph Fiennes makes a brief appearance only to be picked off almost instantly by an enemy sniper.  In a normal Hollywood film, the big names don’t get killed off in under five minutes–that’s practically an unwritten law.

But that’s exactly what Bigelow wants to accomplish in dispatching first Pearce and then Fiennes with so little pomp and circumstance: she wants the audience to feel as vulnerable and panicked as James and his squad do, and boy, does it work.  Even the final scene of the film, in which James is back in the States with his girlfriend and baby son, hums with an unspoken tension.  It’s clear to the audience, if not to the unfortunate girlfriend, that James just isn’t wired for civilian life, at least not anymore.  The film closes with a shot of James back in the bomb-defusing suit, marching triumphantly towards the next bomb in the sand.  We understand, as the credits start to roll, that James has been so changed by his experiences in the war that he simply cannot go back to the way things were.  What the film hints at, so delicately you may not even notice, is that the country as a whole may not ever be able to go back, either.

Bigelow was only the fourth woman in history to be nominated for a Best Director Oscar (in 82 years, no less) and the first to win.  That this momentous event was occasioned by a war movie is both a testament to Bigelow’s skill in directing within a completely male-dominated genre, and a strange sort of capitulation from the Hollywood establishment.  It’s worth noting that the first woman to break this glass ceiling was not someone like Nancy Meyers (Sleepless in Seattle) or Sally Potter (Orlando) or even Jane Campion, though she was nominated in 1993 for her tour-de-force The Piano.  Certainly, the first woman to be let into this ultimate boy’s club couldn’t have directed a chick flick or a gender-bending feminist manifesto–perish the thought.  It seems like the Academy had its collective hand forced with Bigelow’s nomination; she pulled off a manly film in a manly genre, and beat Hollywood at its own game.

Jeremy Renner also has been long overlooked for his award-worthy talents.  Though his first leading-man role was in the somewhat unfortunate Dahmer (2002) Renner didn’t allow the cartoonishly evil character he was playing to overwhelm him–somehow, he kept his performance human and believable.  Renner also has a reassuringly non-airbrushed look to him, physically; he actually looks like a real person.  His physicality is a major part of his character in The Hurt Locker, and, just as in Dahmer, he knows how to use his body, affect and appearance to give full life to his character.  I’d rather watch him than Sam Worthington (Avatar) any day.

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Dahmer (2002)

In Film Reviews on March 29, 2009 at 6:24 pm

DahmerDahmer (2002) is, at first blush, a fairly run-of-the-mill bad guy biopic, tracing the exploits of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer from late teenagerhood to just before his arrest, for a smorgasbord of crimes, at age 31.  Jumping back and forth between the past and the present, the film fills in Dahmer’s personal history through frequent flashbacks, and paints a picture of him that turns out to be surprisingly—almost uncomfortably—compassionate.  However, the flashbacks give the film a disjointed quality that makes it less effective as a thriller (or a horror film) than many of the more infamous serial-killer epics, such as those comprising the Silence of the Lambs oeuvre.  Instead of charting a conventional course—killer becomes obsessed, murders, mutilates, and is eventually hunted down in a heart-pounding finale—Dahmer prefers to allow the audience to sit back and ponder its main character in all his multi-faceted weirdness.  The problem is, despite Jeremy Renner’s commendable performance in the titular role, there’s really not that much to ponder.

            The film opens towards the end of its story, just as Dahmer is about to become acquainted with his last couple of victims.  We go with him through the depressing monotony of his working-class everyday life; he monitors machines at a chocolate factory that stamps out hundreds of Santa Clauses every day, to be shipped off to faraway cities where happy, well-adjusted people will consume them without a second thought.  The juxtaposition of such an obviously disturbed character with fountains upon fountains of liquid chocolate turns out to be an apt metaphor for the way Dahmer sees his fellow man: as pliable, abundant, and, of course, tasty.

Dahmer clearly dreads most normal social situations—church, family, nightclubs, et cetera—and instead craves one-on-one interaction with other men.  It is these pivotal encounters, presented in not-quite-reverse order, which director David Jacobson uses to try to characterize Dahmer as a sympathetic, if not empathetic, person.  To this end, we witness young Dahmer perform his first murder (after being rejected by his first lover), endure an awkward, unhealthy relationship with his father, and try to keep his illicit proclivities under wraps while living in his grandmother’s house.  While these vignettes are all painful to watch, they lack the depth and focus needed to really engender sympathy or understanding in the viewer.  Dahmer just seems weirder and weirder—and harder and harder to relate to—as the film progresses.

At one point, the grandmother gets a serious scare when she discovers a fully-dressed male mannequin, stolen from a department store, hidden inside Dahmer’s closet.  This is another apt metaphor for Dahmer’s precarious relationship with “normal” society; it is as though he intuits that his homosexuality alone is enough to condemn him utterly and, in the face of that social reality, he simply allows himself to carry out his most outré fantasies to their logical conclusion.  He’s been taught that the evil associated with homosexuality is, perhaps, tantamount to the evils of rape and murder (to say nothing of cannibalism, necrophilia, and so on).  Thus, through the film’s extensive flashbacks, we see Dahmer gradually develop a more and more unfettered sensibility about his own desires.  One transgression gives way to the next, until his first murder, committed in the face of sexual rejection, seems like child’s play when compared with his last, which incorporates not only drugging, raping, and torturing the victim, but murdering, dismembering, and possibly eating him as well. 

While the film’s attempt to explain the origins of Dahmer’s psychosis is admirable for its unorthodox storytelling, in the end it can’t quite accomplish what it sets out to do: make Dahmer a sympathetic character.  Though there’s violence and intrigue aplenty (albeit at a snail’s pace), it seems that no examination of Dahmer’s life, no matter how detailed, can bring to light any redeeming qualities in his character.  Unlike films such as Monster (2003) or even Red Dragon (2002), in Dahmer’s case, he seems to have deserved every iota of his reputation as an essentially evil man.