- Red Riding: 1983 (Anand Tucker, UK, 2009)
- Away We Go (Same Mendes, USA, 2009)
- The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow, USA, 2008)
Red Riding: 1983
What an incoherent mess this finale to the Red Riding series this is. Unlike the first two, you have to see the others to make any sense of it. And even if you have seen the others, you'll still struggle! There are unexplained shifts between the three time frames and nothing to signal which period the film is in. John Dawson, the developer murdered in 1974, suddenly appears when we're thinking it's 1983. The number of characters who flash past in quick succession makes it hard to know who plays what role and what the hell is going on. At the end, confusion reigns and I'm left wondering "what the...?"
I expected James Marsh's 1980 to be the best instalment and it was.
Away We Go
My planning for MIFF avoided seeing three films in a row, and this one wasn't really on my radar because it's getting a commercial release. I had a spare two hours between films and because I knew this would be light-weight comedy and Red Riding isn't really emotionally challenging, I slotted this between the other two.
There is nothing about this film that identifies it as a Sam Mendes film. No particular insights, no revelations about relationships, just another 'quirky indie comedy', a genre that I find I'm a bit bored with, and have been with at least Little Miss Sunshine. It's not as stupid or contrived as that piece of populist trash, but it pushes all the right formulaic buttons: hip music in all the right places, a parade of idiosyncratic characters, quirky diaogue, characters who struggle with their age and responsibilities. It looks nice enough and audience laughter came at all the intended places but it's only worth seeing if you want to see how Mendes does mainstream. Or if you're a 30-something feeling directionless in life, or pregnant.
The Hurt Locker
At the risk of sounding sexist, you wouldn't know this thrilling film was directed by a woman. It's heart-in-your-mouth from go to whoa as we follow a US Army bomb disposal unit in Iraq. The suspense, the dialogue, the understated humour, the character development are all excellent. The film is like a cross between Beaufort (MIFF 2007, for the suspense), Full Metal Jacket (for the characterisations), Jarhead (itself derived from FMJ, but set in the region) and Children of Men (for the embedded journalist style of camera work and editing).
I found the choppy look a bit more than required and tend towards the David Stratton perspective on that account, though I expect he would acknowledge the strengths of the film. This is perhaps the best film I've seen that depicts the current military situation in the Afghanistan/Iraq region and maybe that's because the film does nothing didactic. Like most of the other films mentioned above, it simply depicts the lives of these men in war and the small details of their day-to-day existence. And man, what a bloody struggle, as they count down the days to their return to the US, just hoping to stay alive each day. Definitely worth seeing.