By Lewis Manalo
Looks badass, don’t it? Based on a screenplay by Mark Boal, a reporter embedded with an Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) unit in Iraq, The Hurt Locker (dir. Kathryn Bigelow) has been lauded on the festival circuit for its gritty realism and bravura performances. Lead actor Jeremy Renner trained with a real EOD unit prior to shooting. The filmmakers even shot most of the film on location in the Middle East, and the cast featured Iraqi actors. I haven’t seen the film, but as a former soldier in a sapper unit, having taken part in dozens of mine-sweeping missions and the disposal of literally tons of munitions in weapons caches and unexploded ordinance, I can tell you, at the end of that trailer, the first thing anybody who’s really dealt with IEDs and UXOs will say is, “WHAT THE FUCK HE DO THAT FOR?” Because though that circle of rigged shells circling the soldier may look kinda cool, no jackass in the military, on even his worst day, even if he felt like committing suicide, even if he was the most inbred yokel to ever join this man’s Army, would ever tug on fucking branch lines, much less yank hard enough to displace the explosives they were wired to. For all the filmmakers’ posturing about realism, from just the trailers alone, The Hurt Locker looks fake as shit and that’s exactly what any soldier or veteran will think as he or she watches it.
But other than examples like the irony inherent in The Hurt Locker’s publicity campaign, is there any real reason to criticize how fake a movie is? Maybe back before cinema had pubic hair Bazin could’ve believed, as he wrote in “The Ontology of the Photographic Image,” that photography and cinema fulfilled the Arts’ historical obsession with realism. But I don’t think I would’ve believed what he said then, and I sure as hell don’t believe it now. Do you really think NASA would send a bunch of oil drillers up into space to save the world from an asteroid on a collision course with Earth? You ever meet a broad that made orgasmic moans while sitting in a deli? (You’re a lucky dog if you have, and if you are one, feel free to contact me through the website.) And if you know where I can get me a muthahfuckin’ light saber, hook a brother up. We don’t want realism in our movies. We just want to believe them.
Am I being nit-picky about The Hurt Locker? Seeing as how I love Bigelow’s Point Break, possibly the fakest FBI action drama ever made, I might be being a little too detail oriented. Nor do I stop believing the screen when TJ Hooker hangs off of the hood of a car or when Dirty Harry fires a .357 Magnum with one hand and manages to actually hit something he’s aiming for. But try watching any of those films with a cop. I’ll bet you five to seven dollars it‘ll be the most annoying movie-watching experience of your life. “He’d never do that.“ “That weapon can’t do that.“ I’m just as bad with bombs and explosions in movies. Watching Munich I actually shouted out loud in the theater when Mathieu Kassovitz shoved a blasting cap into a block of C4 without making a hole first. (People turned and looked at me. It was embarrassing, but Frenchy made a really stupid mistake that a jackass in my squad almost made out at Tarnak Farms. Luckily my racist squad leader saw it and stopped him from blowing us all up.) Should I just blame the PTSD for ruining Munich for me? Blame the fact that because I know something about it, I can’t watch any fiction films about the subject?
But the sex-in-the-shower scene in The Specialist completely lost me, despite the fact that I was still untrained in the art of the hippity-dippity the first time I saw it. Even with my most voracious, most perverted, youthful imagination, in a more analog world where an unlucky teen’s knowledge del sexo was limited to dirty jokes in the locker room and the sticky pages of ten-year-old issues of Playboy, I could tell fake booty-grinding when I saw it.
The issue is one of phenomenology, and if the viewer can accept the film’s reality, like in the excellent and completely unbelievable Point Break, the viewer can place his faith in the film. Like romantic comedies. I think the last time I ever had to dash after a girl in the third act was in the third grade, playing tag with Suzie Rottencrotch at recess. But if we accept romantic comedies at all, we accept the conventional dash in the third act because it makes us feel good, because it keeps with the zaniness of that film’s reality. A break in that reality, or an inconsistency in the established cinematic world is a problem for us viewers because it takes us out of the film. In Showdown in Little Tokyo, another ridiculous film I love, most viewers are taken out of the film when Tia Carrere’s muscular body double dips her silicone ta-tas into the hot tub. We know that’s not Tia Carrere (she‘s hot in that movie, but not diesel or that cosmetically enhanced) and we’re reminded that we’re watching a movie. Watching Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in a New York City theater, the moment Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi started in with the Lightness Kung-Fu the audience started laughing. Lightness Kung-Fu has been in wuxia cinema since cinema began in China, but an audience not used to the reality of that genre will have trouble placing its faith in it.
If we (okay, I) cannot accept some flatdick in The Hurt Locker jerking on goddamn branch lines, it’s because that supreme act of idiocy breaks with established rules of the film’s “gritty, realistic” universe. Am I saying the layman shouldn’t watch this movie because it looks as close to realism as Guiliani in drag looks like a woman? No, but be warned: if they couldn’t even keep the dumbass from pulling explosives out of place, they might’ve thrown in one of those steam-filled sex-in-the-shower scenes, too. Maybe that’s your kind of thing, but it ain’t mine.