Thursday, September 4, 2008


(VENICE, ITALY) This morning at the International Venice Film Festival, I came out of the screening of director Kathryn Bigelow's latest film, The Hurt Locker, deeply shaken. As I've said repeatedly, I have deliberately isolated myself from images of war. According to the speakers at the press conference, Americans, too, have been deliberately isolated from images of war -- but not by personal choice.

Here is the Director Statement:

"Fear has a bad reputation, but I think that's ill-deserved. Fear is clarifying. It forces you to put important things first and discount the trivial. When Mark Boal, the writer, came back from a reporting trip to Iraq, he told me stories about men in the Army who disarm bombs in the heat of combat -- obviously, an elite job with a high mortality rate. When he mentioned that they are extremely vulnerable and use little more than a pair of pliers to disarm a bomb that can kill for 300 meters, I was shocked. When I learned that these men volunteer for this dangerous work, and often grow so fond of it that they can imagine doing nothing else, I knew I had found my next film." -- Kathryn Bigelow

Bigleow starts the film with a quote: "War is a drug." She said she was inspired by Chris Hedges' work, "War is the Force that Gives us Meaning."

A French journalist kicked off the press conference by accusing Bigelow of making a movie that was "too sweet." That the soldiers thought three times before acting was not believable. That they were too human. (Apparently he missed the part that these were elite, highly-trained soldiers, doing a very particular kind of work.) To be honest, the question seemed overly provocative, the undertone being that Bigelow had either glamorized American involvement in the war by creating characters that had depth, or that she was a woman and had feminized the war, or who-knows-what -- the journalist must have used the word "sweet" three or four times. Bigelow responded with dignity and poise, saying that accuracy and truth underscored all the images. Mark Boal, the writer, said the movie was based on first-hand observations he had witnessed while in Iraq, or interviews with soldiers. They said they had depicted a small slice of war -- that of these elite men who disfuse bombs -- with accuracy and authenticity. One journalist expressed disbelief that a soldier could disarm more than 800 bombs, as the character Staff Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner) claims in the film to Colonel Reed (David Morse), and still be alive. Jeremy Renner, the actor who played Sergeant James, answered and said that he had spoken to soldiers as part of his homework, and that number was not an exaggeration.

Another journalist remarked that the actors looked much smaller in person, and asked if they had worked out to prepare for the roles. (And they really did look much smaller! In the movie, they seemed huge!) Only one had, Brian Geraghty (originally from New Jersey:) -- but they all gave great performances, every one of them. The film was shot in Jordan, right next to Iraq, during a heat wave. The temperature was 125 degrees, and the suit that Jeremy Renner wore to disfuse bombs weighed 80 pounds.

My only complaint is that there was too little of Ralph Fiennes and David Morse, two of my favorite actors. Long, long ago, I actually had the opportunity to be part of a theatre company in Los Angeles of which David was also a member. We read a scene together once... I can still remember how it felt, he is that good.

Let's at least have a look at Ralph Fiennes as he appears in The Hurt Locker -- coming soon to a theater near you.

Ciao from the Venice Film Festival,


  1. Why were you so shaken? Is the film especially graphic?

    I am not surprised about the reporter badgering the director. The media tend not to like a war film unless it's extremely anti-military.

    I can back up the 800 number, as well. I know techs who have over a thousand.


    From Variety:

    The Las Vegas Film Critics have named 'Hurt Locker' best picture at its 2009 Sierra awards. 'Locker' also nabbed awards for best actor (Jeremy Renner), best director (Kathryn Bigelow), best cinematography and film editing.