Tuesday, April 5, 2011


The Hurt Locker (1) vs. The Great Raid (14)

CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT: “The Hurt Locker” develops only three characters – the lone wolf Sgt. Will James, the by the book Sgt. J.T. Sanborn, and typical grunt Specialist Owen Eldridge. This trio is fleshed out over the course of the film. We know their attitudes and emotions. The key to the movie is the conflict between James and Sanborn, with Eldridge caught in the middle. “The Great Raid” has more characters to juggle because of the trio of story lines. The movie develops nurse/resistance member Margaret Utinsky, POW Joseph Fiennes, and mission leaders Henry Mucci and Robert Prince. The romance between Utinsky and Fiennes is thrown in and ill-fitting. Mucci is your typical gruff disciplinarian and Prince is the idealistic subordinate. Nothing special about them.

Score at the end of the first period: Hurt – 9 Raid – 7

DIALOGUE: Hurt won the Academy Award for Original Screenplay and deserved it. The dialogue is cracking. The dialogue between James and Sanborn seethes. The dialogue is sparse which is consistent with soldier talk. Raid is an old school style movie in many ways, including the dialogue. There is nothing special here. The words placed in the characters mouths are words a Hollywood screenwriter thinks a soldier would say. That is not to say the dialogue is laughable, it’s just not noteworthy.

Half-time score: Hurt – 18 Raid – 14

PLAUSIBILITY: Hurt has been criticized for making James too much of a adrenalin junkie who gets his fix by flouting common sense safety protocols. There is some truth to this. Although the movie is fictional and thus can go beyond reason to make its case that war is a drug, there are events in the movie that are highly implausible. For example, three bomb techs taking separate alleys at night to chase insurgent bomber(s) makes no sense. It is apparent that bomb disposal experts must be different than normal people, but someone as mentally unstable as James would not last long in the military in that specialty. Raid is based on an actual commando mission and is sourced from two excellent books. The love story is implausible, but the events in the raid itself are close to the real deal. So real, that many viewers probably were disappointed with its “tell it like it was” instead of “rev it up” plot.

Score after three periods: Hurt – 24 Raid – 22

PLOT: “The Hurt Locker” won the Best Picture award. It flows from action scene to action scene propelling the arc of James as an increasingly loose cannon. The suspense is palpable. The opening is memorable in its unorthodoxy. The close book ends it well. In between we learn to admire as well as abhor the main character. The plot of “The Great Raid” reads more like a history lesson with a pedestrian romance throw in. The movie lacks pizzazz, but the build-up to the attack is smooth and the attack itself is well-written and accurate.

Final score: The Hurt Locker  – 33    The Great Raid – 29

Black Hawk Down (4) vs. Flags of Our Fathers (5)

CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT: BHD is not really character driven. It develops the character of the Rangers versus the Delta Force more than individual soldiers. It is a true ensemble cast with Josh Hartnett as the lead, but certainly he does not dominate. We do not get to know the soldiers very well, but the movie does not have time for that. We do recognize some tried and true stereotypes. The gruff sergeant (in this case actually a Lt. Col. McKnight), the sad sack Blackburn, the desk jockey turned warrior Grimes, the lone wolf Hooten, etc. Flags does an excellent job developing the three surviving flag raisers. They are distinct personalities. The tragic decline of Ira Hayes is particularly poignant. The other members of the unit are also well drawn. The government officials are stock characters, however.

Score after first period: BHD – 7 Flags – 9

DIALOGUE: Both movies come from well-respected best sellers and are true to their sources. The conversations feel real and unforced. They also reflect how soldiers talk in and out of combat. If you watch both movies you will get a clear impression of how soldier talk and interact. It is fascinating to see how soldier dialogue has changed from Iwo Jima to Somalia. Slight edge to BHD because it does not have the cynically patriotic handlers that Flags has.

Half-time score: BHD – 16 Flags 17

PLAUSIBILITY: Both movies make sense and have no laughable scenes. They are true to books that have not been criticized for overhyping their topics, Slight edge to BHD for showing the fog of war and the difficulty of hitting moving targets in urban combat.

Score at the end of three: BHD – 26 Flags – 25

PLOT: Flags is a nonlinear retelling of the men who raised the flag as well as the bond tour the survivors went on. the back and forth scenes are effectively arranged. This means the audience is whiplashed from high intensity combat action scenes influenced by Saving Private Ryan and the introspective scenes on the home front. This makes the movie more interesting, but a bit bipolar. BHD is linear in structure. It builds to the battle which dominates the second half of the movie. The shifts from the command centers to the boots on the ground are instructive in clearing up the fog of war for the audience. The Battle of Mogadishu could not have been handled better, unless you question the lack of coverage of the enemy point of view. But then again, Clint Eastwood had to film an entire separate movie to accomplish that for the Battle of Iwo Jima.

Final score: Black Hawk Down – 35 Flags of Our Fathers - 33


  1. These final scores are odd. Mine would come out 30+ for Black Hawk Down and 10 for Flags of our Fathers (spontaneous score)but reading the analysis it does sound plausible.

  2. I have been a little surprised by the tightness of the victories, but I guess it is because these are the sixteen best American war movies of the last ten years and other than Pearl Harbor and Flyboys, they are all pretty good. I find it hard to give decent movies less than a 7/10 in any category. You obviously do not like Flags, but it is actually a good movie, in my opinion. The categories tightened this match since BHD, while clearly a superior movie, is not strong in character development and dialogue because those areas were not emphasized in the script.

  3. Having consulted my partner, you're right about the implausibility of THl's main character. He described the bomb units as very nervous types who covered it up by macho posturing (we eat bombs for breakfast).

    He also had concerns with matters of procedure, the opening scene for example: he believes that as the explosive was a small charge, not near a major asset, it would have been detonated. A team member would never have moved in. In any case, he felt it was extremely unlikely that there would have been any problems with mechanical means of dealing with it. That was just the beginning of his criticism! And of course, this is just based on his experiences.

    I'm still miffed that Besterds is no longer in the running!

  4. Thanks Kitty. Your partner sounds cool.

    I did not mention the beginning of THL, but I agree totally with your partner. I just found it very implausible. If you are concerned enough to send the bot in to begin with, why would you suddenly decide to walk in yourself when the cart breaks? They knew the explosion would be massive and thus would have known the suit would not save them if it went off.

    As far as Basterds, it was hurt by the nature of the categories. Accuracy and realism were not exactly its strengthes. In a simple confrontation based on which movie (not which war movie) is better, it would have won.

  5. What? No bonus points for killing Hitler? ;)

  6. For a long time I resisted seeing the movie because I do not like "what if" scenarios. The truth is fascinating enough without making things up. See Valkyrie. I have to admit I like Basterds in spite of its ridiculousness.


Please fell free to comment. I would love to hear what you think and will respond.