[I think this will be a new review-type feature where I review popular movies from a while back, anywhere from last year to many years ago.]
This movie had a lot to live up to by the time I saw it. It's been called the best movie of the year, one of the best war movies of the last 25 years, the Platoon of the Iraq War, amazing, brilliant, and any other super-hyped-up adjective or description you can muster. So my expectations were, needless to say, high. But at the same time, other reviews I've read said it's merely OK. And on top of all this, any movie that is overly preachy or tends to shove things down your throat (such as patriotism), I have to check my gag reflex and eye rolls and heavy sighs at the door. Then add a 2+ hour time frame and apparently very little plot, and I start to worry (not to mention I just don't care for war films in general to begin with). So I have high expectations and already expect it to epically fail. What a paradox.
So what did I think? This was one of the best damn movies of last year. I mean, the movie really has no plot. It's just a group of guys who belong to a bomb specialist group for the Army and their random missions. But it's mostly a character study. Jeremy Renner gives an outstanding performance as Sargent Will James, a character that borders that line between brave and insane. And not just insane for what he can put himself through without much fear, but certifiably insane. There are just little things here and there and make you question him, such as threatening to maim or kill someone before stating "just kidding," or going to bed with his safety helmet on, or even pressing a knife harder against his neck when a bout of horseplaying goes a little too far. He is a character that is always right... at least in his own mind... and when he isn't, it's usually worse for everyone. To compare Renner's character to Albus Dumbledore (which, I swear, you'll probably only ever see on this blog), Dumbledore once said that because he is smarter and cleverer than most men, so his mistakes tend to be correspondingly huger. The same could easily be said for Renner's Will James.
The other two main characters are that of Sanborn and Eldridge. Sanborn is like, to use an English term here, Will James' foil. He's more calm and collected and can't understand James' wildfire persona. Eldridge, on the other hand, has some psychological issues and is always focused on death by worrying about his own. Sanborn was really a fascinating character (after James), as his slow evolution throughout the film is shown juxtaposed against James' mental degradation. There were also a few other minor characters, such as Ralph Fiennes' commander, who is only on screen for maybe 10 minutes. But he's a pretty good character, too. Just not much to say about him.
I also want to talk briefly about the cinematography. I can see how it was nominated, but I don't think it should win. Why? Because while it's brilliant, it isn't consistent. I knew I was in for a treat from the very first bomb explosion and the rocks slowly raise off the ground. But the next time anything like that remotely happens again, it's been a whole hour later. Granted, there's not a whole lot you can do in a desert, but it just felt inconsistent (or maybe too infrequent would be a better way to say it) with its great shots.
The action sequences were great, too. They weren't your typical balls-to-the-wall action sequences. They were very subdued, very slow builds. Just the opening scene alone... you know something is gonna happen, you just don't know when. And the other scenes (like the car bomb when he can't find the wires), you just don't know what's gonna happen. The movie really moved fast for a 2+ hour film. It was completely engrossing. I wonder if the suspense holds up in subsequent viewings, though, but I'm assuming it does with its huge following.
All in all, it has great acting, great (if infrequent) cinematography, great suspense, great pacing... just great all around. And if there's really anybody out there who haven't seen it yet, I do highly recommend it. In fact, the more I think about it after-the-fact, the more I like it.
Royale With Cheese