The South by Southwest Film Festival saw the premier of The Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow’s Iraq war set Action Thriller. The film will go on a limited release in America in the summer but there is no UK release date announced for the film as yet. This is a shame as the film has had some good reviews, based on the real life experiences of Mark Boal a journalist who followed a bomb disposal group in Iraq. The powerful drama In the Valley of Elah was also based on a story by Boal so this may give an indication of the type of film it may be. The casting is interesting with some relatively big names, Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes, David Morse and Evangeline Lilly (best known for Lost) but the three main characters are played by little known actors. When talking about the film Strange Days Bigalow said: “If you hold a mirror up to society, and you don’t like what you see, you can’t fault the mirror” It has been suggested that The Hurt Locker is a similar reflection on society and offers the good balance between this thoughtful filmmaking and the action of Point Break. Hardly prolific but always interesting, it is a good time to look back on her career to see how Kathryn Bigelow has evolved as a director.
Her first feature was The Loveless (co directed with Monty Montgomery) Starring Willem Dafoe as the leader of a Motorcycle gang. Made in 1982 the film was released in America but not the UK. There is a similar story with the DVD, it came out in 2004 in America but we are still waiting in the UK. Consequently I have not seen the film and can’t tell you much about it other than to say it was the début for both director and star (other than as an un-credited extra in Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate) and has been described as a loose remake of The Wild One.
Her genre blending and bending horror masterpiece Near Dark has already been mention in my Vampire blog a couple of weeks ago. As I said at the time it is possibly one of the best vampire films ever made. Made in 1987 it offered a stark near realism to a normally supernatural genre, blending this with a modern western and a road movie. This was in complete contrast to other movies being made at the time such as Joel Schumacher’s teenage vampire flick The lost boys. Lance Henriksen is great as the head of the vampire family. Look out for: A young Adrian Pasdar (Nathan Petrelli in Heroes) in the lead role. In a lot of ways this is Bigalow’s best film.
Of all the films mentioned Blue Steel is probably the one that has not aged well. A stockbroker (Ron Silver) witnesses a cop (Jamie Lee Curtis) shooting a robber and becomes obsesses with her. He takes the robbers gun and starts killing people at random at the same time starting an affair with the unsuspecting cop. Jamie Lee Curtis is a good showing both a tough and vulnerable side but it is far from her best performance, the same can be said of the director!
Point Break is probably her best known film. The story of an FBI agent (Gary Busey) and his new young partner Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) who goes undercover to catch a group of surfing bank robbers. Taking surfing lessons from a local girl (Lori Petty) who turns out to be the ex girlfriend of prime suspect (Patrick Swayze). Utah quickly becomes embroiled in the culture and the people getting too deep into his cover. Does this plot sound familiar? It is remarkably similar to The Fast and the Furious (2001) but borrowing plots is nothing new! and it works better here in the original. The film is the main reason I took up surfing (it took me 12 years from when I first saw the film!) it had a similar effect of Reeve’s, he learnt to surf for the film and still surfs to this day. Don’t underestimate this as a mindless action flick or a Keanu Reeves “Dude” movie. It is a modern classic that has been much imitated and provides some of the best parts for all actors involved. Also look out for a cameo from The Red Hot Chilli Peppers as rival surfers.
Strange Days is a much underrated film. Set at the turn of the millennium, former cop Lenny Nero (Ralph Fiennes) turned black market dealer in an illegal new technology. He unwittingly gets involved in a web of murder and blackmail that brinks him into contact with characters from his past. Ralph Fiennes seems a strange choice for this film but is brilliant in the role but the real star of the show is Angela Bassett as a female bodyguard and friend of Lenny. The film is set on the eve of the new millennium a few years after in was made, so it is now set in the past but the near future themes are probably more relevant than ever now. Set in LA and made at a time when the riots of the 90’s were still fresh in the memory.
The weight of Water is a very different film for Bigalow, based on a novel by Anita Shreve. The story is told in two different era’s the first is based around an actual double-murder on the Isles of Shoals in 1873. The other is set in the present day as a photographer (Catherine MaCormack) researches the murder. This is a very character driven story with little action. As you would expect there are great performances from the ever reliable Sean Penn and Sarah Polley but there is also a really good turn from the usually wooden Elizabeth Hurley. This is not a film about society like her previous films, this is a film about people and relationships. It is as if the director has taken her usual subject matter and looked at a small part of it with a microscope.
K-19: The Widowmaker is based on the true story of Russia’s first nuclear submarine. When things go wrong on the maiden voyage the crew have to prevent a nuclear disaster. The film is high on drama and tension but not on action. This is a probable reason why it sunk at the box office (sorry I couldn’t resist). When looking at the cast and the Russian Sub setting I think a lot of people expected a film more like The Hunt for Red October, this is a very different film. Taking a military setting and Communist one at that Bigalow is able to look at both individuals and the collective group making a far more intimate film than you would expect.
As I look back through all these films I get the impression that Kathryn Bigelow has matured as a film maker choosing more thoughtful films that reflect society and more importantly the individuals that make up that society. Her films are always very watchable, her characters have something to say and there is always a sense of right and wrong even if that line gets frequently blurred. Kathryn Bigelow is the perfect director to remind us a film does not need a worthy subject matter to be a good film. Good is good and more often than not her films are good. I just wish she would make a few more of them I long for the action of Point Break, the amazing visuals of Strange Days and the originality of Near Dark. Hopefully The Hurt Locker will contain all these elements and mix them with a social commentary that will make its audience think about what it is watching.