‘The Hurt Locker’
Hollywood has been struggling to turn Jeremy Renner into a movie star, but it doesn’t seem to take. He’s been Marvel’s Hawkeye thrice so far, appeared in two “Mission: Impossible”s and even tried to become Jason Bourne’s replacement. He’s been great in them, steely and driven. But he’s not a movie star; he’s too remote for that. He’s a character actor, and a brilliant one. Some of us have been championing him since his turn in the low-budget “Dahmer,” from 2002. Recently he added tension to two unusually squirmy episodes of “Louie.” And of course, he was thrilling in Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar-winner “The Hurt Locker,” the movie that finally convinced execs to take a chance on him, with so far so-so results.
Of course, what Renner was really doing in “The Hurt Locker” was a twist on an old type: the reckless hero who doesn’t play by the rules. As a rock star IED disposer in the Iraq War, he’s playing a character who could easily have slipped into Bigelow’s “Point Break.” But Renner makes his cockiness playful; even when things get rough he cracks a grin, one that erodes as the film wears on into something more ambivalent. Renner’s thoughts are always private, but in a way that makes you lean in, tempting you to figure out a guy who won’t let you figure him out. That doesn’t work when you’re the head of blockbusters; Tom Cruise always lets you in. But it definitely works when you’re in offbeat fare, or when you’re the dude who knows how to shoot a mean bow from an arrow.
Speaking of war movies, there was a time, upon the release of Paul Verhoeven’s effects-heavy winky rabble rouser, when people seriously didn’t get that it was a deeply sarcastic joke — a bone-cutting satire on war movies that was in essence a fake propaganda movie from a grim future. (Of course a remake that will be more faithful to Robert A. Heinlein's jingoistic source, and thus everything this movie is fighting against, is in the works.) It’s certainly anything but subtle: Verhoeven intercuts segments using the language of “Why We Fight” and other WWII-era propaganda into his soapy tale, starring a host of actors from “90210” and elsewhere. Everyone is a pawn in the war machine, waging battle with an alien race whose motives aren’t even defined, and who may very well be reacting to earthlings’ own aggression. It’s savage and funny, implicating the viewer for getting caught up in unspeakably grisly action set pieces. Too bad streaming doesn’t allow you to listen to the commentary track, one of the genre’s best, in which Verhoeven, with his thick Dutch accent, repeats his deeply pleasurable pronunciation of the word “fascist” roughly 10 billion times.
It’s been two months, so of course no one is talking about Cameron Crowe’s “Aloha,” or about its questionable casting of Emma Stone as a part-Asian, part-Hawaiian love interest. (If only all those who wrote the countless think pieces actually saw the film; perhaps it wouldn’t have bombed.) We sort of liked it, but we’re also sort of sympathetic to what Crowe is doing, which is making singular films in an increasingly homogenized mainstream movie landscape. That’s not always a good thing, and Exhibit A is surely his 2005 boondoggle, which has some of his worst ideas. (Chief among them is Susan Sarandon’s bizarre tap dance shtick at her husband’s funeral, though a U2-backed visit to Martin Luther King Jr.’s death site comes close.) But it also some of his best. Kirsten Dunst’s googly stewardess begot the term “Manic Pixie Dream Girl,” but her initial scenes with a sleepy Orlando Bloom do capture that feeling of initial spark, particularly an all-night phoner that nails that feeling of first blush that in real life comes far too infrequently. It’s a giant mess, but one of high peaks along with the bottomless valleys.