The Hurt Locker reviewed

The Hurt Locker was this year’s big winner at the Academy Awards, scooping 6 out of the 9 Oscars it was nominated for, including Best Original Screenplay, Best Director (for Kathryn Bigelow, the first woman to ever win in the category!) and the biggest accolade of all, Best Picture. Of course, such praise is not to be automatically trusted. 2007’s No Country for Old Men was also an awards season darling and fellow Best Picture winner but that film was overhyped and unsatisfying.

Fortunately, though, The Hurt Locker is one of those films that actually deserves its acclaim – even if I would fall far short of calling it ‘The near-perfect movie’ and ‘The film of the decade,’ as some critics have been proclaiming. It’s also worth noting at this point that The Hurt Locker may not be for all tastes. Several people walked out of the screening I attended, and reports from family and friends have indicated that my experience was not exceptional. Although I personally can’t understand it, evidently the film is alienating many mainstream moviegoers.

However, if you are a fan of the war film genre – as I am – then you will definitely enjoy The Hurt Locker. The movie is a gritty treat that sidesteps the usual “War is evil” message to instead focus on how the constant threat of death can warp a person’s psychology.

Although The Hurt Locker reminded me tonally and aesthetically of Black Hawk Down, the film is a very different kind of war movie. It isn’t about a large squad of soldiers sprinting into battle as blood and bullets fly. The Hurt Locker is an intimate, and often very quiet film, focused on one highly specialised military group – an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) unit, comprising of just three men. Basically these soldiers are the US army’s elite bomb disposal squad, called in to suss out complex explosive traps and defuse them before they cause devastation.

The Hurt Locker doesn’t follow a conventionally linear, developing storyline, which may grate some viewers. The film instead sticks to an episodic format as Bravo unit counts down the last month of their deployment. What storyline exists centres on cocky, chain smoking Sergeant James (Jeremy Renner), who is called in to replace Bravo Unit’s dead leader. James is a master at unorthodox bomb disposal but his reckless behaviour angers his team mates, by-the-book Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and junior soldier Specialist Eldridge (Brian Geraghty), who is growing increasingly anxious and death-obsessed with every passing day.

Given its bomb disposal subject matter, The Hurt Locker is, as expected, all about tension. The disarmament scenes are masterfully handled. They are genuine edge-of-your-seat viewing as the audience waits to see if James’s luck finally runs out. The highlight sequence of the film is a particularly tense sniper’s battle between the EOD unit and British allies, equipped with a Barrett, and Iraqi insurgents using the desert terrain to their advantage.

Of course, while these combat and disarmament scenes are electric, and filmed in an appropriately shaky handheld camera style to heighten their realism, the excitement bleeds out of the film in-between them. James’s friendship with an Iraqi youth doesn’t add much to the film apart from some unwanted similarities to Good Morning, Vietnam. And unfortunately these dull patches become more frequent in the second half of the film.

Still though, there is enough narrative momentum, and energy generated by the cast’s excellent, award-winning performances, to just carry The Hurt Locker to its conclusion.

As a war movie, The Hurt Locker doesn’t have the memorability and thought-provoking critical impact of classics like Full Metal Jacket and Apocalypse Now. However, as a gritty, war-set action film, The Hurt Locker is fantastic entertainment – with an expert grasp of how something as simple as anticipation can be used to ramp up the emotional intensity of a scene. The film is recommended for this alone.

A warning though to potential viewers who are not war movie fans: you will need to have a strong stomach watching The Hurt Locker. The footage of bomb blast victims is disturbingly realistic, and the film even includes close-ups of a body bomb stitched inside a child. Brace yourself for grimness.


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