Sunday, April 6, 2014

Battle Of The Oscar Stars: Best Picture 2009

It was reported earlier this week that during the entire month of March there was not a single US solider casualty - a first in 11 years.

That says quite a bit for a country that remains embroiled in conflicts around the world, but a happy fact, and hopefully a pattern that will continue.

Then the shooting at Fort Hood several days ago bounced us all back into reality. Maybe the front lines of a war zone aren't the only terror that the troops of today will face.

Looking back at 2009, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were a hot button issue with no end in sight. Some had family or friends that were getting shipped out, and others didn't know anyone personally, but the idea of war was difficult to stomach.

Since we all couldn't have a direct connection to the idea of war, there is a medium that can help us try to understand - the movies. The Best Picture Winner from that year created an impactful visual sense of what it takes to be a soldier and a taste of the pressures of regular life once they return home.

The countdown clock - from the very first moment of The Hurt Locker the amount of days left in this battalions tour of duty flashes on the screen. It seems like for some this idea might be the only thing that gets them through. If they live, there is an endpoint. The stakes are truly high every minute until they return.

How to survive is exactly what writer Mark Boal and director Katherine Bigelow (who both also won Oscars) have as the central point of the story. Following a group of bomb diffusers as they work through the streets of Iraq will definitely create that stressful tension. Nothing says "surprise!" like the potential for a character you appreciate to blow up in an instant.Yes, be ready for shockingly quick deaths.

These moments, as in over half the movie, are where the movie excels.True suspense is watching Sargent James (Jeremey Renner) dig through a pile of rubble to cut the wires of small bomb. Whoosh, he did it! But that relief only lasts a few seconds.

We watch as he continues to crawl on his belly,  pulls on an attached line, and discovers a web of seven additional bombs - he's definitely not done working yet.

Nothing else in the plot can really compare after coming off these high intensity moments, which leads to where the story drags a smidge. Rather quickly though, those slow bits pick up as we follow one solider struggling to grieve the loss of a fallen comrade. This is an issue the movies have been calling attention to since way back in 1930, with another best picture winner, All Quiet On The Western Front.

These quieter times may not be as exciting, but as the movie goes on, it seems eerily close to life and gives real insight into the day to day of soldiers - from the doldrums of boredom, to stress, to happy fun partying times, emotional turmoil, and violent anger.

Just like us civilians, all the characters eventually ebb and flow through these emotions, but then there are the adrenaline junkies, like King Bomb diffuser Sargent James. It may seems crazy to the rest of us, but some people live for this job. It's what they know, to them we're the crazy ones, and, lucky for us, they are willing to risk their lives.

Obviously, a movie can't tell us everything - by watching a screen you won't completely understand what it feels like to have a family member in dangerous circumstances, or know how it feels to shoot a gun at another human being -  but they can try to enlighten us and make us all take a moment to try to understand a form of life outside of ourselves.

Capturing a cultures experience of war in an honest way will be The Hurt Locker's lasting legacy in the hallowed halls of cinema's grand vault.

Until next time.

Next Up: Colin Firth faces everyone's fear, public speaking. Well, he also had a stammer to deal with, people. We're watching The Kings Speech.

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