International Oscar Showdown 2010 — The Hurt Locker vs The Secret In Their Eyes

The 82nd Academy Awards winners for Best Picture and Best International Feature Film were The Hurt Locker and The Secret In Their Eyes

Hurt me plenty

The Hurt Locker is a post-invasion Iraq War movie, and one that unconventionally focuses on the exploits of bomb-disposal specialists. The story is propelled by a series of operations to deal with various improvised explosive devices (IED) – from a car bomb to a suicide vest, via the largely implausible spectacle of a “body bomb” surgically implanted into the corpse of a boy.

Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker

Hiding in plain sight

The intensity in the film is often drawn from this hidden insurgency, and how, for American troops cleaning up dangerous ordnance, locals leaning out of their apartment windows to watch was as threatening a presence as would be tanks on the horizon. Similarly, the friendship that Jeremy Renner’s character — the combat-addicted Sergeant James — forms with a kid hawking DVDs near the base is inherently tense, so muddied are the lines between friend and foe.

War stories

It’s a peculiarly episodic screenplay, with seven separate operations, all with a very slightly different emphasis on tone and suspense, but essentially propelling the story forward by showing James’s recklessness, or Sanborn’s mounting frustration with his unruly team leader. Sanborn even considers detonating an explosive while James returns to retrieve his gloves from the blast site, knowing it could easily be written off as an accident. Eldridge is shocked, but not enough to admonish Sanborn for contemplating the murder of a squad member.

Eyes on the prize

The foreign-language film up against The Hurt Locker is Argentinian crime drama The Secret In Their Eyes. On the face of it, the film is a commercial thriller, full of burning injustice and forbidden romance, not to mention twists. A retired judiciary agent is writing a novel about a case from the1970s that never sat right with him, and, between flashbacks of the investigation and his later authorial ponderings, he uncovers a horrifying reality. It’s like Atonement meets The Usual Suspects, in Spanish.

Juan José Campanella’s The Secret In Their Eyes

The beautiful game

The film is a little slow in the first half, but the keystone of the film is a truly remarkable moment of cinema: once Esposito and his drunken partner Sandóval establish from letters written by Gómez that he is a football fan, they begin attending matches at Racing’s stadium. There is an astonishing one-shot take in which the camera flies towards the floodlit stadium, swoops over the pitch and follows the attacking play of one of the teams, before settling on Esposito in a fervent crowd of supporters.

Love is blind

Besides the investigation in the 1970s, the main sub-plot of the film is the unfulfilled romance between Esposito and his boss Irene. It’s quite melodramatic — a forbidden love based on differing social class, debilitating shyness and unfortunate timing — but I didn’t find it particularly convincing, and perhaps a little tacked on for the sake of an extra narrative thread.

Retrospective result

This has been one of the hardest showdowns I’ve adjudicated so far, as both films richly deserve their accolades, yet I would give neither five stars.

Writer of stories, movie reviews, and sundry other whims. Also a sub-editor, so you are welcome to shout at me about typos.

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