Richard’s Year of Movies — Magnificent Seven/Hurt Locker/Great Escape

I really like being a guy.  Days like yesterday being one of the primary reasons.

I mean, how can you be a red-blooded male and not feel the blood start flowing when you see a lineup that includes The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape?  I’m convinced that a some point during the process of conception, the egg asks the sperm what it thinks of those two films, and the Y chromosome wins if it answers correctly.

What’s scary is that I own both films on DVD, so I can watch them whenever I want, and yet I still watch them whenever they turn up on TV.  They’re two of my so-called Remote Droppers — films that, no matter how far along they are when you come across them while flipping channels, make you drop the remote and watch them through to the end.

The great thing about these two movies is that they not only create great characters, but they introduce those characters in some of the most iconic ways.  Is there anything that exudes more cool than Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen riding the funeral wagon up to Boot Hill?  Not only is it a great scene on its own, it tells us everything we need to know about those two characters without having them make speeches about it.  And the opening scenes in The Great Escape, where it seems like every prisoner tries to break out the second they’re in the camp, so expertly sets up all the characters, and in such an enjoyable way.  You’re barely twenty minutes into each film and you’ve got a firm grip of where they’re going, and you’re more than willing to go along for the ride.

And then they both pull the rug out from under you.  Escape is this jolly, stick-it-to-the-Nazis romp — and then the Germans find the tunnel, and Ives can’t take it and gets himself killed.  And then the gut punch of the ending, with the fifty officers gunned down on the side of the road.  Hey, where’d my jolly romp go?  Oh, wait, there’s Steve McQueen and his baseball again.  You need that moment by the end of this film.  And Seven makes you think these seven lost souls are all going to find redemption and be better men for it.  And they do — except that more than half of them don’t make it out of the film alive.  And the very end of the film tells you that these guys fought for a way of life that ultimately makes them useless.  Not exactly what the strains of Bernstein’s classic theme promises at the beginning, huh?

Sandwiched between those two films, I watched The Hurt Locker.  At first blush, you would think it’s like the other two films — guys at war, guys on a mission.  But it couldn’t be further from that.  There’s no jovial comradery — the one scene we see of the men bonding is an evening of drunken masculinity where they trade punches that are powered by pent-up resentment.  There’s no high spirits — these men are in a horrible place doing a horrible job that often has horrible consequences.  While all three show men who are extremely good at what they do, Escape and Seven ask us to revel in that, while Hurt Locker asks us to ponder why you’d even want to be good at this.  And there’s no noble cause here — James does what he does not because he sees it as a higher calling, not to help those in need, not even to serve his country.  He does it to escape, to have something he feels like he’s in control of, even if it threatens to blow up in his face at any second.  Better the choice between the right and wrong wire, the choice between life and death, than the choice between breakfast cereals.

I’d say Hurt Locker definitely deserves its Oscar nominations, although I think Anthony Mackie got screwed out of a chance to lose to Christoph Waltz.  Kathryn Bigelow definitely earned that DGA award, and only underlines how I feel Oscar night will go — she’ll get Director, Tarantino will get Screenplay, and Avatar will get Picture.  It feels like a share-the-wealth kind of year.  Not saying I’d vote for Avatar for Best Picture — if I had a ballot, I’d probably vote for Up without hesitation — but Hurt Locker is definitely worthy of consideration.  It’s a harrowing film that you need to see.

It’s just a good thing I had that Great Escape chaser, or it would have been a pretty depressing Saturday.


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