The Hurt Locker (2008) dir: Kathryn Bigelow

Sorry for the long delay between posts but I’m working on my own movie at the moment (my first as director!) so I haven’t seen as much as I’d like.

Been a long while since Kathryn Bigelow’s last movie, ‘K-19: The Widowmaker’, and like that film and much of her other work ‘The Hurt Locker’ centers around a male group.  This story is based on writer/producer Mark Boal’s experiences when he was working as a journalist in Iraq circa 2004 and concerns a US bomb disposal team in Iraq – a volunteer team that work in and around Baghdad disarming Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). They do this every day knowing that they can be blown to kingdom come at any moment.

This is very much an independent film where both Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal have full creative control and it shows. Shot on super 16mm in 44 days this is a film with some incredibly tense sequences and well choreographed action. Surprisingly, one of them is the slowest gunfight I’ve ever seen which takes place between a sniper and the US soldiers over a distance of 1 km as the combatants watch each other through high powered telescopic sights. You wouldn’t think such a slow sequence could be so intense and suspenseful and is a masterclass in film making on its own.

As the team go from one disposal mission to the next I had a quick look around the audience and people actually were leaning forward and sitting on the edge of their seats. And I thought that was just an ad man’s phrase!

Shot primarily in Jordan, the director teamed up with Ken Loach’s regular director of photography Barry Ackroyd. They shot with 4 cameras simultaneously, then after each take all the camera positions would change so that the actors had no idea where the cameras would be, so the actors had to stay focused at all times. This has given the film a documentary style immediacy which generates excellent performances especially from Jeremy Renner as the team’s new bomb specialist.

It’s been out on limited release already in the USA and is definitely a film worth seeing. It doesn’t take sides or go into the politics behind the war, but follows the experience and personal trauma of a small group of soldiers.

Looking For Eric (2009) dir: Ken Loach

Well here’s a film from the UK’s most undervalued director that will hopefully appeal to a wider audience giving the director some much deserved mainstream success.

Eric (Steve Evets) is suffering from depression, his life is crap and he was last happy when he saw Eric Cantona play soccer for Manchester United. As he drowns in despair, he starts seeing Eric Cantona, his hero, who begins to give him advice on how to change his life around.

Like Ken Loach’s other films, this is still a story with a social aspect at its heart but here it is wrapped in some touching comedy.

It was a pleasure to watch the interaction between the two Erics. Ken Loach (unusually for a filmmaker) shoots his films in sequence and the actors are never given a full script –  they don’t know what’s coming next. So, when Eric first sees Eric Cantona his expression and reaction is priceless. The film is really good stuff.

Apparently, Eric Cantona originally approached Ken Loach with a slightly different idea, based around a Leeds United fan who had switched allegiance to Manchester United when Eric Cantona move there. The fan lost his job, his friends and family. From there screenwriter John Laverty developed a new idea which eventually turned into the screenplay for this film.

It’s worth noting that the film is not really about football, (I’m not a big fan of it), so if you hate football/soccer – don’t let the football aspect put you off.

The French love Ken Loach, the Brits love the French Eric Cantona, hopefully this is a marriage that will play to a wider audience.  It’s been picked up by IFC for America – so even you lot in the good old US of A have no excuses.

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