Action-packed Director Kathryn Bigelow has successfully redefined the war film genre with her new film The Hurt Locker starring Jeremy Renner. The film is unique in the way that it that you neither pity nor root for the soldiers, but empathize with their situation. Bigelow makes you a voyeur to the human side of war and in doing so you are able to see both the pride of the people who defend our country and the consequences of performing one of the most dangerous jobs in the world.
Check out what she had to say about making the film below…
Where there some logistical headaches that you couldn’t get over in terms of working in Jordan?
Bigelow: I would say that it was a very film friendly, very hospitable, very generous place in which to shoot and perfect because you are making a movie about the Middle East, but it was hot. We shot in the summer and average temperature: 110, 115. Jeremy’s bomb suit, as he might of mentioned, weight somewhere between 80 and 100 pounds, and that is not a wardrobe kind of cheat to look real, but yet was vented all the way through. Mo, no, this had steal plates and literally a lack of oxygen. Those were the kind of logistical challenges, but also the great thing about Jordan was all of our extras were real Iraqi refugees from the occupation and so, some of who are actually actors, that was kind of a great bonus I didn’t anticipate.
One of the things that I was so entranced by this movie is you made the camera was so participatory. It felt very much like you were immersed in like the fourth person running through. How did you create that?
Kathryn Bigelow: Well that was actually the intention. Mark had came back from Iraq and these incredible observations, you know, real first person look at the day in the life of the bomb tech. So I kept thinking how can I preserve the reportorial quality the script has? I mean the script really read like you were there and it’s a page turner and so I wanted to protect that feeling and give the audience that opportunity to be on embed with a bomb squad. So I found Barry Ackroyd, this truly—one of the most gifted cinematographers working in the business today. And we shot in super sixteen, which gave us this kind of life and dexterity and opportunity—in four units—which was an opportunity to cover these sets because bomb disarmament kind of dictates approximately a 300 meter containment—the ground forces sort of stop the war for you, the bomb tech to walk on whatever ordinance you are meant to disarm or blow in place, which is what it refers to. And so wanting the audience to real fondemental geographic sense of space and, in other words, to go from here to there, and you know this is off limits and this is on limits, and so that was really critical and keeping it very live and you-are-there experience.
***Spoiler ahead: skip the next question to avoid a spoiler!***
One of the genius pieces parts in the film, for me, is when you cast some of the more-well known actors in the smaller roles and just snuffed them out really fast. Was that on purpose?
Bigelow: Yeah. From the moment—it’s a bit of a spoiler, but the film is very designed to make you feel very comfortable with Guy Pearce and sort of make you feel—alright he’s going take you through this incredibly indomitable landscape and then of course he doesn’t. And then you are met with actors who are less familiar. And really it goes back to Mark on his imbed. I mean, as a soldier over the there, you don’t know whose going to live. If you are a soldier in an imbed over there or a reporter in an imbed, I mean, he didn’t know if he was going to come back. Nobody knows what is going to happen one day to the next or on hour or one minute to the next. So if you have actors on the screen for which that doesn’t—long sort of cinematic linear or prominence comes attached too, therefore you think well it is Tom Cruise, how could he possibly be harmed until perhaps the end of the movie. That ups the anti- in terms of tension and suspense. As well, it’s an opportunity to work with very talented actors, you know, some of the most talented actors of our generation so there you have it, but now here you have Mark’s goal.
When I watched the film I definitely got pangs of the adrenaline junkie Point Breakish- kind of thing. How important was it to have that side of the character while at the same time focusing on the reality behind someone like him?
Bigelow: Well in a way it’s kind of a coincidence, I do look at film, as being very the opportunity to be very experiential. If you really want to stretch the medium you can give a viewer an experience that they can’t otherwise easily get—let’s say you want to sign up for a tour of duty. And so when he came back and he was talking about some of these individuals in kind of an idea for a character that he had that combined a few of them, where they had a tremendous amount of swagger and bravado, and almost verging on being reckless, but at the same time combining that with a really profound skill set. I thought, really, that was an interesting course of direction.
Then we looked at Chris Hedges’ book “War is a Force that Gives us Meaning” and one of the elements that he drools down on is “wars dirty little secret, some men love it.” So he really looks at it because he is a war voluntary that there is—not to everybody and it is not a generalization, but there is a sort of allure and attractiveness that combat possesses. So like the war reporter, like the war photographer, you know some, who knows, bull rider, whatever, there are certain vocations that speak to that kind of psychological component—is hungry for those peak experiences.
We were talking to Jeremy and he said that his first question to you was “how do you want the audience to feel at the end of the movie?” How did you want the audience to feel at the end of the movie?
Bigelow: Well I think it’s a little bit of both, you know, to a certain extent his life—the sergeant James character is truly a hero, I believe, but at the same time that heroism comes with a price, and I think that is what I said to Jeremy way back way, is that their is a price to his heroism and can he reintegrate—is his home life really ruined is too strong of a word, but it definitely doesn’t provide the purpose and meaning that being out in the field disarming a bomb does. And unfortunately nothing can replicate that for particular character and so it is a bit of both.
And can you talk about casting, the three guys who all said they wouldn’t be able to do the movie without each other…
Bigelow: They really created a kind of unit, which is just extraordinary. I was familiar with Jeremy because of Dahmer and I just thought that was one of the great performances, I mean, his ability to elicit sympathy for that character, I found virtually unimaginable and yet he did it, and so it was amazing. Anthony Mackie in Half Nelson, I just thought he was riveting—I know it’s a small part in the, I loved the whole, everybody was great, but he just commanded the screen. And Brian Geraghty in Jarhead, again not a big part, but riveting and memorable. I knew Jeremy had to be Sergeant James and then the real challenge because he is such a talented actor is to find other actors who could kind of meet his talent head on and challenge him to a certain extent. Anyways, then you have to think in sort of an ensemble and I found Anthony, found Brian, and it was kind of a perfect match.
Your visual style is very distinctive. Was there anything that you set out to do in this film?
Bigelow: Well a big part was getting in his head because I didn’t go to Baghdad. I’ve been to Jordan, and Kuwait, but not to Baghdad and really trying to get in his head and trying to see his imbed through his eyes and have break it down—bomb disarmament, protocol, what does it smell like, what does it feel like, what do the—just the flies and the garbage, just because of it being an occupation there’s all sort of normal services. So just living in a war zone and fear on a daily basis. What adrenaline, that fear-base adrenaline does to the human psyche, so it’s really looking at a day in the life of a bomb attack through his eyes. So it wasn’t like imposing a visual style in it, it was pulling from him and trying to make it as real and authentic as possible. And in every juncture turning to him and saying, “Okay, is this real, is this what it was like? You know, what is wrong here?” And believe me, he would tell me.
Check out The Hurt Locker in theaters this Friday, June 26th, 2009.