Soldiers are not allowed to smoke during combat. Before and after is fine, but during is reckless. It’s like talking on the phone while driving, except you’re talking a man down from a ledge, while driving in the Le Mans Grand Prix. Most soldiers have enough on their minds not dying during combat. So the no-no governing combat-smoking only applies to a select few. I’d say you feel one of two ways about men who smoke in the midst of a gun-fight. Either: a) they offer proof of man’s ultimate de-sensitisation to violence. Or b) they’re f—ing rock stars! Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker is for those who think b.
When Donald Rumsfeld said, “Stuff happens” what he meant was: “I don’t make mistakes”. That’s why everyone got so pissed at Rummy. It’s the arrogance of power that provokes violence in the powerless. Hubris wouldn’t be a flaw if not for other people getting screwed. But it’s tough. Power secludes. If you’re a person who commands respect, how much empathy can you have with those humiliated by your decisions? The new drama, Forgiven, shows us two hells: one caused by not admitting a mistake, and the other caused by revenge. It’s the same hell for both men. They’re each fired by pride.
There are no families in Quentin Tarantino’s world. (The little girl in Kill Bill doesn’t count, because we all know Uma Thurman’s true son was her sword.) Families require people to be unvarnished, awkward, stuffed with feeling, and inarticulate. They don’t belong in Tarantino’s single’s paradise. His movies (which are brilliant, before I go any farther) are told from a single man’s remove: assumed postures are exalted, violence is like a new suit, no-one has a home. Watching Inglourious Basterds, the first thing that hits you is the shear verve of the storytelling. The second thing (the kicker) is that no-one who dies is ever supposed to be missed.
Film noir is built on things that go wrong; plans are scuppered, the gun jams, love goes up in smoke. Anti-heroes don’t even have good intentions to fall back on. They’re ravenously selfish, so it’s tough arguing they don’t deserve their fate. Luckily, people don’t watch noirs to empathize with the protagonists (unless they’ve just ripped off a bank); people watch noirs to feel better about their mistakes. Take Julia, a new noir with a drunk as its heroine. She has all the control over her life that a hand-grenade has. Even as her crime sets in motion, you picture her face on the evening news. She’s alluringly doomed, like every girl in this no-luck genre.
Crime movies work on a that-looks-like-fun principle. Bank robberies look exhilarating, so they’re ok. Ditto driving a stolen car, or taking consequence-free drugs. Not having to pay taxes is obviously a big middle-class turn-on. Chain smoking without fear of opprobrium is hot stuff. We all want the veneer of being a criminal, in essence. That’s what good crime movies give us. Mesrine: Killer Instinct works because Jacques Mesrine (Vincent Cassel) only commits sexy crimes. He’s what we want in a criminal: passionate, well-dressed, electric in bed. Even when he’s shooting up a prison, he does it with élan.