MOVIE REVIEW | ***DIRECTOR DEBUT WEEK*** Bigelow: The Loveless (1981)

It probably says something about Hollywood, that the only woman to ever win an Academy Award for Best Director, makes such masculine movies.  With an Oscar win for The Hurt Locker and a nomination for Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow is no stranger to making tough as nails movies about tough as nails characters.  And with Point Break, she has a genuine action movie hit to her name, that seems to be more and more beloved as time passes and nostalgia grows.  So even though I knew absolutely nothing about her debut before I started watching it, it was no surprise to see that there’s a bubbling pool of testosterone at the core of The Loveless.

In some ways an update of The Wild One, The Loveless begins with a gang of bikers descending on a small town.  Well, it’s not even really a town, it’s just a roadhouse diner and motel. And it’s not really a gang, it’s a few leather clad greasers, lead by Willam Dafoe as Vance.

Stuck there for a couple of days while they repair one of their bikes, Dafoe and his guys alternate from trying to lay low, to openly antagonising the locals to banging one of their daughters to full blown aggression.  All the while, the town is so small, this hand full of bikers almost outnumbers the residents.

Willam Dafoe nails it in the central role.  And even as the main character, he might have the least amount of dialogue in the entire movie.  But that’s fine, even three decades ago, Dafoe had an amazingly craggy, worn, expressive face that can say so much with juts the slightest look.

Not just Dafoe though, the entire movie has a really restrained, minimal, almost noir look and feel.  No one ever says a single superfluous word, and no big flashy moments are resorted to if the same point can be made with a quick exchange of looks.  Until all that restraint boils over into the big climax of The Loveless that is the biggest indicator of where Bigelow was headed as a director.

Based on the cars, I guess The Loveless set in the 50s or 60s, but I also get the feeling Bigelow is keeping the era deliberately ambiguous.  Usually, in any period piece, references to the specific time are usually shoehorned into exposition, but that never happens here.  I’m probably reading too much into it, but to me, it almost felt like a timeless parallel universe.  It could have been set in a weird version of present day when it was made in 1981, it could be set in a weird version of present day when I watched it in 2013.

Watching The Loveless and thinking about Bigelow’s more recent movies, like The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, the only conclusion I can come to, is that being married to James Cameron turns people into ice cold, hard assed bitches who make awesome, yet ice cold, hard assed movies.

The Loveless
Directed By – Kathryn Bigelow
Written By – Kathryn Bigelow, Monty Montgomery

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