Movie Review: The Hurt Locker

“What’s the best way you go about disarming one of these things?”

“The way you don’t die, sir.”

You already know this one’s tale. Six Oscars, including Best Picture, without a single big name actor to its name. This movie earned Kathryn Bigelow the much deserved title of Best Director—the first time ever for a female director.

Welcome to Iraq!

The Hurt Locker is a visceral, cinematic powerhouse, that grips you tight as it brings to life the tension and hauntingly high-pressured atmosphere of day-to-day life for U.S. soldiers in Iraq. It is about as atmospheric and engaging as a film can get, keeping you rigid on pins and needles without the need for cataclysmic warfare or high octane action. Bigelow is a master of building the pressure without respite or release. There is no dramatic “I killed the bad guy” moment—just a lingering tenseness that builds and fades (but never dies) throughout the entire film.

The story focuses on an army bomb squad, and chiefly around “new guy” William James (Jeremy Renner). The characters are all-important to the film, as it is their development in this sandy hell and the effect it has on them, that brings it to life. They are very human—not cardboard military cutouts, as many movies make (See We Were Soldiers).

The psychological toll steadily increases for these men with every task, an underlying gnawing on the back of your neck, heightened by the constant revival of the calendar: a constant countdown to their departure. What this movie is about is reality, and to show us that, it focuses on the people, not the war. It is not about the politics that so engrosses the people at home. It shows us the lives of soldiers both on and off the field, and how the darkness pervading their existence is ever on the rise.

We also see the difference between those in the field and those at desks—the ludicrous concept of a man that has never seen action, lecturing a soldier on the “glories of war.” Tension, that delightful thing I described as ever building, comes not merely from the bombs, and the guns, but between people. Of course, there is a tension between the soldiers and the Iraqis. However, there is also a tension between the soldiers themselves, as one might expect from men forced together, and forced together into the same maddening tasks, day-in and day-out.

As for James, he is a distinct prick, but a believable, understandable prick, given the situation he’s thrust into. He is also incredibly calm under pressure—a trait rather endearing to his line of work—though even he begins to fray and snap as events take their toll. He is likable, possessed of a distinct personality for an unthinkable situation. Even so, there is no denying he is bat shit crazy.

Kathryn Bigelow with ex-husband James Cameron

In terms of craft, the movie is perfectly modeled. The people behind the cameras and the mikes  have it down, and they have joined with the editors to give us seamless harmony—the right angles at the right moments, cutting away; a shot ringing out, a body falling; subtle music rising as dirt-encrusted fingers struggle with endless bundles of wires. Atmosphere, as I said, is an unwaveringly dark, gripping construction, enhanced by a trifecta of solid screenplay, quality acting, and superb direction and focus.

Still, I can’t say personally that I would have given it the Best Picture award—it’s great stuff, but I just didn’t feel that perfect it factor. Nevertheless, whenever you get a chance to see it, do. You won’t be disappointed.

P.S. Personally, I’m just glad Hollywood didn’t do the cop out and give Avatar Best Picture—for what we know would have been sheer looks alone. Don’t get me wrong. Avatar is a thrill. But while, yes, it is entrancing, it won where it should—in terms of loveliness. The story was well-done, but nothing new, and we must be careful not to award extra benefits just because it fluttered its eyelashes at us.

Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars!

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~ by Chris G. on March 11, 2010.

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