The Hurt Locker

Director: Kathryn Bigelow

2008

Any war film is going to be fairly tense viewing thanks to the nature of the subject matter but a war film that centres on bomb disposal – well that’s a whole other level of tension. Bigelow has us right in the middle of it all; we are completely in the moment with the characters. The audience experiences the claustrophobic nature of being inside the suit; seeing things from Renner’s view puts us squarely at the very epicentre of the action. It’s an extremely narrow film of vision, not just for the character but also the filmmaker.

There’s a hand-held quality to the camera work again ensuring the audience is fully immersed in everything taking place. It captures the chaotic and fractured conditions the guys are working in. Bigelow highlights the breathing from within the suit and has a suitably tension filled soundtrack. Little colour in the film but then we are in Iraq, a desert country, and a war-torn one at that. The sun glares and almost every event the core team of 3 attends is accompanied by air support of some sort adding to the noise level. Often the scenes are somewhat obscured by smoke or haze.

“Set during the Iraq War, The Hurt Locker skillfully pulls us into the chaos of an elite U.S. bomb deactivation unit by concentrating on authenticity and character, while assiduously avoiding politics and polemics.” (930, Jonathan Penner, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) For all Bigelow strives for authenticity I watched this with my dad (who has a history in the military) and he says there is no way Renner could have pulled off one of the most famous scenes, when he lifts multiple shells with one flimsy wire. It’s a very insular film – it doesn’t attempt to deal with the larger question of why they’re in Iraq instead focussing on the daily lives of 3 soldiers doing an extraordinarily specialized job. 

“Like three other recent movies – District 9, Inglorious Basterds, and AvatarThe Hurt Locker taps back into the sentiment of the “good war” that audiences clearly craved after an onslaught of dreary films such as Rendition, Stop Loss and Lions for Lambs: “unjustified” war stories that had kept theaters empty for years.” (930) I have to say that I actually like these so-called “unjustified” war stories featured in films like Rendition (Gavin Hood, 2007) and Stop Loss (Kimberly Peirce, 2008) – I find them more interesting than some of the “good war” films … and vastly more interesting than Avatar (James Cameron, 2009)

“We come to see, through vicarious experience and calibrated observation, how hero and loon can be one and the same, and to remember – thanks to Kathryn Bigelow – just how much fun men of danger are in the movies.” (930) You definitely cannot say The Hurt Locker lacks for action. Right from the get go we are propelled from one climatic event to another, with each event increasing in potency. There is rarely a moment of relief from the tension in The Hurt Locker. It could run the danger of becoming too intense to watch. I mean even in horror films there are some moments where the tension lets up and you get some breathing space. Not so much the case here.

Incredible image of Thompson (Guy Pearce) running in full kit from the bomb as it explodes – all done in slow motion of course to make it extra spectacular visually. Owen (Brian Geraghty) is an excellent example of how the death of a colleague  can affect a soldier and their outlook on their position in the war. Owen develops an obsession of sorts in dying in the line of duty. The Iraqi war zone is not the best place in the world to have a negative outlook like that. Stellar performance from Ralph Fiennes in one of the few roles where he isn’t some psychotic, unstable mass murderer (nice to know he can play something against type)

Jeremy Renner is quickly building a remarkable career as an action man with recent roles in Avengers Assemble (Joss Whedon, 2012) and the reboot of the Bourne franchise, The Bourne Legacy (Tony Gilroy, 2012). Here he’s the reckless renegade soldier bought in as Thompson’s replacement. Not an especially good quality for a bomb disposal specialist to possess. For all his maverick tendencies Renner is a good leader, able to effectively calm Owen down during a spot of contact.

Bigelow has some pretty intense close-ups – eyes during a contact, spent rounds rebounding off the ground. The drunken bonding between the core three quickly turns dangerous which shows how close to the edge they are living every day. There’s a pretty gruesome scene where they have to sort out the body of a child, the body insurgents have turned into a bomb. It’s also the one time you see Renner emotional when dealing with a situation. He takes extra time and effort to ensure the child is not used as a weapon, it shows a level of respect.

“The soldiers’ addictive compulsions for danger, for heroics, for mental and physical challenge, and for glory are what make them seem damaged and unhappy men in peacetime, but it is these very same compulsions that fill the men with a terrible absoluteness during conflict.” (930) A very brief interlude where Renner is back on home soil as a civilian doing mundane jobs like shopping for groceries and clearing the gutters highlights ow out-of-place he is in a non-contact area. He fits in the Iraqi landscape far better than he does in a domestic one. It’s therefore no big surprise to see him once again suited up approaching an IED at the film’s climax.

I find myself a bit indifferent to The Hurt Locker – I didn’t particularly like it but then at the same time I didn’t particularly dislike it either. The only thing that really kept me engaged and watching was Renner’s incredible performance.

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