Thursday, September 3, 2009


Catching up with noteworthy 2009 films that eluded me upon release.
By R. Kurt Osenlund

The Hurt Locker
Dir. Kathryn Bigelow
5 stars (out of 5)

You'd have to go back to 2007's brutal double-header of "No Country for Old Men" and "There Will Be Blood" to find recent films that deliver anywhere near the amount of relentless, white-knuckled tension that director Kathryn Bigelow so masterfully builds in "The Hurt Locker." To find a better contemporary war drama, you'd need to go back even further, as this you-are-there tale of an American bomb squad in Iraq is the best film of its kind since Ridley Scott's "Black Hawk Down" from 2001. Bigelow -- who's practically been in hiding since her last movie, "K-19: The Widowmaker," bored viewers and bombed big time -- translates journalist Mark Boal's first-hand-account script to the screen with such frighteningly powerful imagery and tightly-wound patience that the rapid pounding of your pulse becomes the metronome of your viewing experience. The soldiers in the emotional, yet unsentimental story never feel safe, and neither does the audience, thanks in part to the hypnotic score by Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders, but thanks mainly to Bigelow's wholehearted refusal to compromise. Last year, Kimberly Pierce's condescending and stereotypical "Stop-Loss" landed on my list of the worst films of 2008. This year, "The Hurt Locker," which glorifies nothing, talks down to no one, and brings eerie truths into perspective, will likely end up in my Top 10.

Dir. Tony Gilroy
4 stars (out of 5)

The snaking, overlapping, back-and-forth structure of "Duplicity" is perplexing on the outset, especially when the dueling/bed-sharing spies played by Julia Roberts and Clive Owen start to repeatedly recite the same insidious exchange that got the ball of the central, cat-and-mouse plot rolling in the first place. The immediate reward of the initial confusion is the articulate, rapid-fire deliciousness of the language, penned by writer/director Tony Gilroy ("Michael Clayton) and wonderfully put into play by the winning duo of Roberts and Owen. What's earned later is the "a-ha!" thrill of watching the puzzle pieces connect. Gilroy is my kind of filmmaker: urbane, tasteful, challenging and exceptionally intelligent. In a post "Pulp Fiction"-world full of imitators trying (and often failing) to toy with movie chronology, he manages to construct a broken narrative that feels both fresh and classic. And, through the lens of the great cinematographer Robert Elswit, he doesn't skimp on the stylish visuals, either. If there's a failure, it's the movie's inability to truly invest viewers in the spies' romance, despite the lead actors' fiery chemistry (perhaps it's simply an inevitable side effect of the story's fundamental theme of mistrust). But "Duplicity" is more about the game than the players, and the game is an entertaining one, indeed.

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