Highs and Bigelows

Kathryn Bigelow may be just one of the guys, but Ralph Fiennes looks a bit cyberpunk chic in <i>Strange Day</i>s.

Kathryn Bigelow may be just one of the guys, but Ralph Fiennes looks a bit cyberpunk chic in Strange Days.

As a director, Academy Award winner Kathryn Bigelow is just one of the guys.

I don’t mean that pejoratively. Or positively, considering the several mediocre-at-best “macho” pictures she’s produced in her 30-year career. Her great cinematic obsession is the volatile group dynamics of violent, male-dominated environments, but beyond that, she has a way of eroticizing and exploiting women that feels very masculine.

Bigelow’s Strange Days, an alternately grim and stupid “cyberpunk” noir, had the audacity to film action scenes in one seamless shot, but also the misogyny to make a cheap plot twist out of a POV rape scene. Her ex-husband James Cameron produced, but it made back less than 20 percent of its budget and practically killed Bigelow’s career.

She returned to film (barely) with 2000’s The Weight of Water, a sexed-up, time-shifting mystery that spends an unnecessary amount of time slobbering over Elizabeth Hurley’s body. Not that I’m complaining; the film is otherwise disposable.

Her 2002 bomb, K-19: The Widowmaker, was independently produced for $100 million, despite the shaky box-office prospects for a movie about Cold War-era heroism on the Communist side. The surprise: It’s a decent potboiler about pride and duty in dangerous situations that’s right in Bigelow’s wheelhouse, despite the obvious miscasting of Harrison Ford as anyone.

The Hurt Locker was Bigelow’s Oscar-winning “comeback,” but why? It could have easily fallen through the cracks (it didn’t make money), and it contained all the same Bigelow tropes (violent environment, hypermasculine thrill seekers, intense action) as the films that critics had ignored or pooh-poohed for years. Perhaps she was just timely for once; Remember that this woman made a biker gang flick in 1982.

Bigelow isn’t a great director. But is she even good? Let me put it this way: She’s interesting, and sometimes that’s better than being good.