‘The Hurt Locker’ defining film of defining event

Back when I had to spend a good portion of my week with my nose to the grindstone, a lot of films I wanted to see managed to get in and out of town without me ever seeing them. One of the benefits of retirement for an avid movie-goer is the time to see just about any movie that comes to town. So, afternoons you can often find me in a dark theater.

A few weeks ago, a friend said I should be a film critic. I replied I’d be lousy. I tend to like most movies. I go simply to be entertained. I enjoy a lot of films that critics find have no redeeming value whatsoever.

But I do appreciate great film. And I do appreciate the quixotic endeavor to figure out what really is the best of the best, whether it be films, books, music, athletes, automobiles, architecture, beer, wine, burgers, burritos, milkshakes, blue highways, roadside dives … you get the picture.

So I was interested when Slate.com decided to determine the instant classics from the first decade of the 21st century. Who’s going to be around in a hundred years to tell the editors they were wrong about Uggs? Or that nobody will even be able to find a clip of the “I’m a Mac/I’m a PC” television ad? Those are both on their list. I think they don’t belong. But then so is Roger Federer, and he deserves a spot, if any athlete does.

But this is about film. And about Iraq.

The film Slate.com chose was “Mulholland Drive.” If you haven’t seen it, you should. It’s by David Lynch. That little bit of information alone should be enough to let you know the film is odd, it’s ambiguous and you’re likely to walk out of the theater wondering what you just saw. I don’t know that that makes it one for the ages.

If it were up to me — it’s not, of course — the film on Slate.com’s list would be “The Hurt Locker,” the 2009 Iraq war film that won six Oscars, including Best Original Screenplay for Mark Boal, Best Director for Karthryn Bigelow and Best Picture.

It is the story of a bomb squad in Iraq. They were the guys who had to defuse the IEDs that were perhaps the most insidious weapons U.S. servicemen and women have to deal with in the War on Terror. It was a job that, if it didn’t leave you in little pieces, left you with heavy psychological baggage. Boal, who was embedded with a bomb squad in Iraq as a freelance journalist, wrote an eloquent story and Bigelow told it with great skill.

It belongs in my canon not simply because of the masterful filmmaking, but because, if there is anything that defines the first decade of this century, it is the war in Iraq. It was born of 9/11, the defining event of the decade. It set the course for our politics to this day and will continue to do so for years to come.

And it is very quietly coming to an end. Has anyone noticed?

The end of the war, unlike the start, is not exactly front-page news.

President Barack Obama announced late last month that the last of American troops will be home by the end of the year, thus ending the nine-year war that cost 4,500 American lives and $1 trillion, if the cost of veterans’care is included.

For that, the United States has a relatively stable democratic ally in the Middle East. It is not my purpose here to debate the merits of the war.

Slate.com said it chose “Mulholland Drive” because no film from the first decade of the 21st century has led to more dinner-table discussions. Maybe not. Maybe “Mulholland Drive” has been discussed over dinner more than “The Hurt Locker.”

But I’ll bet what “The Hurt Locker” represents is of far more importance and has been the subject of far more substantive conversations than any David Lynch film.

Maybe The Great Iraq War Film has not yet been produced. But the best one to date is “The Hurt Locker.” It’s in my canon.

Denny Herzog is the retired executive editor of The Daily Sentinel. Email him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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