‘The Hurt Locker’ houses the horrors of war

Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker” would be predictable as a horror movie. You come in expecting monsters to jump out of the closet and for the most part, that’s what you get.

But still, you watch with a sense of foreboding.

“The Hurt Locker’s” monsters appear in broad daylight when the sun is beating down your neck. They hide under ground and under cars and strapped to the flesh of human bodies. They’re the stuff of nightmares that haunt grown men and women even after they’re far away from war.

And worse yet, they’re real.

The monsters I’m referring to, of course, are the improvised explosive devices that have killed thousands of soldiers over the years. As of 2013, more than 36,000 U.S. soldiers were dead or wounded from IED attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Bigelow shows us these casualties with grainy, distorted video. The feet of women and children scampering across crowded roads. The hums from tanks and the honks of cars. It feels like we’re too close up to see the full picture, and in some ways we are.

“The Hurt Locker,” written by Iraq war journalist Mark Boal, follows a small U.S. bomb dissembling unit in Bagdad, 2004. They spend their aldrenaline-filled days counting bombs they’re dissembled, times they’ve almost died, and the number of days before they can return home.

This gets much more complicated when the group welcomes a new sergeant, William James (Jeremy Renner), the devil-may-care Explosive Ordnance Disposal officer who has trouble following Sgt. Sanborn’s (Anthony Mackie) orders.

This adds much more tension to a mentally and physically draining film. As you’re watching men dissemble bombs with the precision of neurosurgeons, you’re hands ball into fists and your fingernails dig half-moon crescents into the meaty part of your palm.

This next second could be the one where a guy with a burner cell phone fires an IED. This next minute could be the one when another U.S. soldier returns home in a coffin wrapped with an American flag.

I can’t tell you that no one dies in this film. People do — both physically and psychologically — killing men, marriages and the mind. But even though “The Hurt Locker” hurts to watch, it’s worth watching.

Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker” does what television did with the Vietnam war: it gives you a greater understanding of the horrors.

“The Hurt Locker” was directed by Kathryn Bigelow and written by Mark Boal. The film won 2010 Academy Awards for best original score, best achievement in cinematography, best achievement in sound editing, best achievement in sound mixing, best achievement in film editing, best original screenplay, best achievement in directing and best motion picture of the year. 



‘Band of Robbers’ steal from Wes Anderson and Mark Twain

The Tom Sawyer I knew while growing up was endearing for his American ingenuity. Old women would affectionately laugh at his antics while girls had a bit of a crush on him. Remember the time he convinced all his friends to pay him to whitewash his fence, they’d say.

But while a boy like Tom would be celebrated for his cleverness, a man who swindled his neighbors in the same fashion would be a scoundrel.

The latter’s what Tom Sawyer (Adam Nee) initally seems like in Adam and Aaron Nee’s indie film “Band of Robbers” (2015) — a modern retelling of Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”

This adult Tom Sawyer is a sad, boy-man: a kid who never really grew out of his childish fantasies of becoming a modern-day pirate, Robin Hood or detective. He was one of the coolest kids in sixth grade, but now in his mid-30s, he’s a loser who’s going no where fast.

His ex-fiancé, Amy Lawrence (Maria Blasucci), broke up with him in favor of his friend Tommy Barnes (Johnny Pemberton). His boss, Lieutenant A. Polly (Lee Garlington), won’t promote him from a patrol officer to a detective. And his half-brother, Sid (Eric Christian Olsen), is doing way better than him.

The only person who still thinks the sun shines out of Tom’s shoes is Tom’s best friend (and the film’s narrator), Huck Finn (Kyle Gallner, “American Sniper”). Huck’s been stuck in jail for a number of years though after taking fall after fall for Tom. And when he emerges from parole when the film begins, Tom enlists him in another illegal caper: a pawn shop robbery (and perhaps an allusion to Wes Anderson’s first feature film,“Bottle Rocket.”)

While “Band of Robbers” isn’t part of the Cohen brothers or Wes Andersonian canon, it’s not difficult to see the directors influence on the film. The Nee brothers write an ironic coming-of-age story starring adults with youthful outlooks.

These adults seem like cartoonish caricatures of people that you sort of know. Tom could be that dude that still plays video games in his parents’ basement while all his peers have real jobs and Becky Thatcher’s (Melissa Benoist) that new intern’s that too eager to please.

Despite these familiar elements, the film doesn’t feel like a typical sitcom, comedy or a drama. Instead, “Band of Robbers” contains elements of all these genres, and displays them with an absurd and wistfully, whimsical charm.

For starters this epigraph from “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” sets the tone: “Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.”

(This makes a critic’s job particularly perilous.)

Told in five chapters plus a prologue and an epilogue, the Nee brother’s world resembles that of a storybook — full of bright colors and incandescent personalities. One of the characters lives inside a Queen Anne Victorian-style mansion and another character (Matthew Gray Gubler) wears a bright yellow T-shirt, red bandana and American flag shorts for most of the film. Neither of these characters are Tom Sawyer, the ambitious hero of Twain’s literary classics.

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The Hale House, a Queen Anne Victorian-style mansion, is featured in “Band of Brothers.”

As yellow-orange sunspots dance across the silver screen, Huck Finn’s delivers a reverent narration, describing Tom Sawyer as if he were the “Great Gatsby” to Huck Finn’s “Nick Carraway.” Belying Huck’s words, of course, are Tom’s words and actions.

“When you steal from criminals, it makes stealing a good thing, rather than a bad one,” says Tom cheekily.

Stealing’s a moral you won’t find condoned in most storybooks (nor by this author) — yet whatever storytelling techniques the Nee brothers stole from Mark Twain, Wes Anderson and the Cohen brothers made “Band of Robbers” all the better.

“Band of Robbers” was written and directed by Adam and Aaron Nee based on Mark Twain’s books.