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Hurt Locker, The

USA 2008
Directed by
Kathryn Bigelow
130 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4.5 stars

The Hurt Locker

Synopsis: The story of three members (Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, and Brian Geraghty of a bomb disposal unit working in Baghdad.

It’s been a long time coming for Kathryn Bigelow, a female director whose CV goes back to the early 80s and who, very unusually, has worked in typically male genres like action and thriller movies. Whilst the international critical success of the film will no doubt generate interest in her earlier work (she also played a lesbian journalist in 1983 in a feminist polemic, Born In Flames), The Hurt Locker is a qualitative pole vault over anything that she has done previously. It’s unquestionably the best film yet made on the Iraq War and also an outstanding contribution to the “war movie” genre. Why?  Because it feels so real. The Hurt Locker is as close as anyone in their right mind would ever want to get to war.

This immediacy is captured brilliantly in the first major scene in which a bomb disposal unit are de-commissioning a booby trap. When something goes wrong and the bomb explodes the film cuts immediately to extreme slow-motion close up of the earth trembling and grit vibrating on the roof of a burnt-out car before opening up to a more typical shot of the explosion and the disposal expert (Guy Pearce) being knocked to the ground.  And from this moment the film never lets go of its hold on you.

Written by Mark Boal who wrote the original story of In the Valley of Elah (2007) the sense of I-was-there authenticity is palpable but this is no observational memoir. The Hurt Locker pumps adrenaline like a Bruce Willis wet-dream, not as a result of super-heroics and big-budget stunts but through an intense, nerve-wracking focus on the everyday dangers of the job at hand. Aside from its avowed purpose of showing the testosterone-fueled psychopathology of war it is a first class action movie.  Jeremy Renner’s James is a brilliant character in this respect because his fatalistic risk-taking drives the action in a compelling way, compressing the nightmare of an entire tour of duty into a handful of gut-wrenching episodes. And, be warned, when I say gut-wrenching, I mean it literally for Barry Ackroyd’s excellent hand-held cinematography combined with the nail-biting suspense echoed by Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders' score may well bring you to the brink of nausea.  

One of the beauties of the film is that it does not, unlike Brian De Palma’s comparable 2007 film, the mis-fire that was Redacted, preach a message or give us stereotypical characters. The three leads are well-drawn and engage us with their differing personalities, each articulating a particular perception of their experience   As much as The Hurt Locker is a work of fiction and adheres to a conventional narrative form and not a few conventional devices, its intensity is exceptional, its sense of integrity admirable.

FYI: Ms Bigelow not only won the Oscar for Best Director but the film also picked up Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Editing,  Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing as well as truckload of other awards.




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