War Movies Worth Seeing

In the Loop and The Hurt Locker: perfect screenings for a rainy weekend.

by Carin Rubenstein
Jeremy Renner plays a bomb squad leader who disables explosives in Baghdad.
Photograph: Photo by: Courtesy of Summit Entertainment

Just saw two war-themed movies in one weekend: In the Loop, about how politicians and their assorted underlings and ass-kissers and personal idiots engineer their way into war; and The Hurt Locker, about the aftermath of that process, the daily, mind-numbing life-and-death duties of a bomb squad unit in Iraq. 
The first movie is directed by a Brit and stars nobody in particular you’ve heard of, except James Gandolfini, who plays a dovish five-star general. The script is elegant and clever and very British, and moves at nearly the speed of sound. Laugh at a line spoken by a moronic British cabinet minister who, after being told that he is to attend a meeting but not to speak, describes himself, supremely insulted, as “meeting meat,” and you’ll miss the zinger right behind it. Peter Capaldi, a British TV actor, plays Malcolm Tucker, an unbelievably foul-mouthed press secretary whose rants have him spewing foam from the mouth, swearing more forcefully and creatively in three sentences than Gandolfini did in his entire career as HBO’s Tony Soprano. Watching these self serving, egotistical maniacs as they dance their way into war is both terrifying and hilarious, and I have no doubt that this is exactly the way it happened during the Bush administration. (Though real politicians and real wars are never mentioned here, ever.)
The Hurt Locker, directed by Kathryn Bigelow, 57, stars mostly unknown actors who play soldiers whose job it is to diffuse the endless explosive devices secreted in endless ways on endless streets and alleyways in war-torn Iraq. It’s painful to watch, incredibly intense and moving, and unlike most other so-called war movies you’ve ever seen. The focus is so narrow—three guys spend one year walking up to at least one unexploded bomb every day—that all of the complex and disturbing and confusing issues about the war seem to fade away. Jeremy Renner is superb as the fearless, obsessive bomb defuser—he’s done it more than 800 times—so determined and intent that nothing else matters. There are several surprising 4-minute cameos here, including one by Ralph Fiennes that’s somewhat shocking, but they’re not what matters. I dare you to come out of this movie and not be even more repulsed and infuriated by the war in Iraq than you already are.
A depressing way to spend a rainy, summer weekend, but also moving and enormously engaging. I dare you to find out if I’m right.

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