'Transformers' meets PBS
Q: 'The Hurt Locker,' Kathryn Bigelow's Iraq war movie, won great reviews and the Oscar for best picture but has failed to draw large audiences, joining other 2009 critically acclaimed films such as 'The Messenger.' What are the challenges for artists who try to use their art to lead the public on a divisive political issue?
When filmmakers seek to tackle divisive political issues, they often face a difficult choice. If they hold true to the message they seek to impart, they risk the financing needed to not only make a great movie but market it to audiences the world over. If they cede some creative control to "the suits" that write the checks, they can ensure that mass audiences will at least know the movie exists.
In this respect, there's little doubt that Kathryn Bigelow and the others behind "The Hurt Locker" struck the right balance. This wasn't a movie that made overt assertions about the wisdom of the choice to go to war in Iraq or that sought to answer other politically sensitive questions. Like all great art, the movie left those determinations to the audience. Had this film been blessed by the Hollywood marketing machine, this level of nuance and subtlety would likely have been lost - just as we've seen countless times before.
How will the multi-year wars in Iraq and Afghanistan affect the mental health of our veterans and reintegration with their families? How do we erase some of the stigmas associated with post-traumatic stress disorders and other mental illness? How can we help the Iraqi people overcome all that they have seen and experienced? The answers to these questions weren't spoon-fed to the audience; they were raised in a thought-provoking and intensely emotional way. After a deluge of recent films that seek to make our minds up for us, this was certainly a breath of fresh air.
Having spent a year in Iraq and most of my professional life in uniform or working with members of the Armed Forces, I must admit that I did my own nitpicking at certain points and cringed at a few inaccurate portrayals. But, overall, I felt that the movie was very well done. I understand that a war movie can't be so realistic and technical that it plays only to the military audiences - and that it can't be so unrealistic as to lose its credibility. Again, the balance struck was the right one - landing right in that often elusive space between "The Transformers" and a PBS documentary.
I applaud the Academy for choosing "The Hurt Locker" for best picture. Not only because it will soon evolve from the best film that no one saw to a great film that everyone has seen; but also because it will serve to continue a necessary dialogue about how our current wars will have an effect on those abroad and here at home.
Posted by: tossnokia | March 13, 2010 8:50 AM
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