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Movie Review: The Hurt Locker

July 24, 2009
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Kathryn Bigelow’s visceral movie will haunt you

the-hurt-locker-posterDirector Kathryn Bigelow (Near Dark, Point Break, Strange Days) made the wise choice to strip politics from her Iraq War drama.  This results in what is arguably the best of the recent movies about the Iraq War.  Bigelow actually takes you down into the trenches with an IED (Improvised Explosive Devices) bomb squad, and by the end of the movie, you’ll be thinking about the conditions under which our soldiers perform a lot more than you like.   For a long while after the movie, I felt a twinge of guilt every time I poured a glass of  ice cold water out of my refrigerator door, or cranked up my air conditioning.   Everyone should see this movie, because it is ultimately about the people who serve in the war, and the unbelievably stressful conditions they must perform under on a day to day basis, not the war itself.

The film focuses on one specific task force, the IED specialists.  These are the people who must disarm roadside bombs when they are reported.  It’s incredibly dangerous, and requires swift dexterity despite wearing over a hundred pounds of protective body armour, and a vision- hindering helmet.

Jeremy Renner (Dahmer) plays Staff Sergeant William James, who is brought into the squad at the beginning of the film after their previous leader is killed trying to dismantle a device. He is  a swaggering, fearless bomb specialist, which terrifies the other members of his team, because every risk he takes endangers their lives as well.  He throws protocol out the window, and removes his protective gear because if he is going to die, he wants to die comfortably .   Adding to their anxiety about the newcomer is the fact that they only have 33 days left to complete their tour, which now seems like an eternity.

Renner is a revelation. He is perfectly cast as a soldier who only feels like he is in complete control of his life when he is placed in front of a bomb. In stark contrast, back home he becomes panic stricken over a trip to the grocery store.  One pivotal scene in the cereal aisle speaks volumes about his character’s motivations for volunteering for such a dangerous job.

Anthony Mackie (Sergeant JT Sanborn) is excellent as a fellow team member pissed off by the intrusion of his new partner and the reckless behavior he exhibits.  Brian Geraghty plays  the young specialist who is ill equipped to deal with the pressure he must handle, and consequently buckles under the maddening circumstances.  The team’s rapport  is completely believable, and they learn to trust one another because the alternative is death, pure and simple.

In lieu of a traditional plot,  Bigelow  follows the unit around while they go about their daily lives,  counting down the days until their tour is over. Four handheld cameras were employed to render a documentary feel (beware if shaky cam makes you sick, there is a lot of it).  The film was shot over 44 days in the Jordanian desert.  Actors did not have air-conditioned trailers, and  actually wore the hot, heavy equipment to add to the realism. The Hurt Locker has the washed out desert tones that Three Kings boasted.  It is utterly convincing when the men are caught in a protracted desert shoot out.  I could practically feel the grit in my mouth, and sand in my eyes during that scene. According to production notes, Bigelow refers to this movie as “intensely experiential.”   Silently, that scene shows us how quickly the men can succumb to the desert’s harsh environment, and dehydration.

The screenplay was written by Mark Boal, who was actually embedded with an IED unit.    There are a few key action scenes, and  they are amazing.  In an early shot, Bigelow shows a close up of the ground when  a bomb goes off.  It is exquisite.  The dirt jumps in the air, suspended for a moment, before careening back toward the ground.  I’ll take one such visual over 20 Michael Bay explosions any day.

Frothygirlz rating 9/10

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