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The Hurt Locker

August 6, 2009

* warning minor spoilers*

This year’s The Hurt Locker is probably one of the most intense and heart breaking films I’ve ever seen and definitely one of the greatest in the War category. With a running time slightly over 2 hours, The Hurt Locker encompasses thriller, action, and slight docudrama as it counts down 38 days in rotation for three members of the US Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) in the Iraq War. Their job being to disengage the improvised makeshift bombs planted on the streets of Iraq. Within the first ten minutes of the film, viewers are introduced to a trio from the squad as they prepare to disconnect a bomb in their mist. When their auto-bot fails, team leader Sergeant Matt Thompson (Guy Pearce) decides to suit up and personally attempt to fix the problem himself. While preparing for his mission he cracks jokes with his colleagues Sergeant JT Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) in order to relieve tension. However an air of distrust hangs over the three as through shots from behind Thompson’s helmet and through the viewfinder of Sanborn’s gun we see Iraqi civilians began to emerge to watch the team work. The bomb is soon after detonated killing one of the members who is then replaced by Staff Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner). James starts off as the stereotypical action film “loose-cannon” as he establishes himself as the smooth, cool, cocky solider who refuses to play by the rules and instead gets an adrenaline rush from his job.

However as the film continues with the countdown leading to their last days in rotation, each member struggles progressively as their confidence in their job and lives deteriorates. Director Kathryn Bigelow seems to achieve the impossible by filming on location in Iraq, a feat that has been proven to be almost impossible with the real live deaths of journalists, reporters, and television crews who make their way to the country. Bigelow instead filmed on the border of Jordan sometimes a mere three miles from the border of Iraq even using authentic military vehicles and displaced Iraqis, many of whom were trained actors, to play key characters and extras in the film. Bigelow’s use of hand-held camera and quick edits also captures an authentic intensity and danger that is felt among the unit when working. Every use of obstructed angles, tight zooms, and fast paced edits emits a feeling of paranoia and insecurity moreover through the use of long shots the audience gains a sense of unease and tension as the soldiers appear isolated and lonely surrounded by decrepit buildings, debris filled streets, and sand engulfed land; yet the audience knows they are anything but as the faces of civilians appear through open windows and alleys as they stand in curiosity and at times malicious waiting as the soldiers attempt to diffuse various bombs.

Early on in the film it is established that even the most innocent appearing civilians have darker intents by leaving bombs in arbitrary places in hopes of the American soldiers stumbling near them, echoing the problems faced during the Vietnam War. Bigelow keeps the audience on their toes by placing us directly into the action through rapid shaky camera movement running with the characters, peaking behind unexpected corners, and being hit by stray bits of debris after explosions. The Hurt Locker’s strength comes from more than just its direction and cinematography but also its powerful script which incorporates both the hardships and camaraderie of war as one solider literally debates killing another due to his frustration yet in a later scene the same two share laughs in a drunken brawl (ok not from the movie but awesome!) as well as the most tender moments of the film. The Hurt Locker’s use of sound is another strong point and come Oscar season I’ll be pretty pissed if this film is snubbed for best sound editing and mixing, as it effectively demonstrates the delayed sound of gun shots from high powered machinery, the whizzing of bullets ripping through flesh, shell casings clanking on the ground, powerful boot clad footsteps, and the simple yet magnified sound of deep breathing from the soldiers in their bombsuits.

The Hurt Locker almost seems to be a surreal reflection of the dark realism that is still in effect as I type. On a personal level I’ve known people who have spent time in rotation in Iraq but for the most part have turned my head and stayed nonchalant about the progressing war. Not because I don’t care but because I don’t see it and when it’s out of sight it is out of mind. Vietnam was broadcast on televisions far and wide as families sat together for their evening meals and could watch villages being burned and children dying in the streets. America was forced to see what War was doing to not only to our troops but the countries civilians as well.Today’s generation however is much different.

With over 100 channels to choose from, news coverage is the least of our desires and with every channel having its own opinion on politics, what we see and hear is majorly skewed. Vietnam gave us images of youth engaged in bloody battle. We don’t see combat from the Iraq War on television, we don’t see the fear of soldiers, we don’t fully understand the situation they are in, and The Hurt Locker shows us that we never will as shown when a member returns home from duty. All he can talk about is war and the mundane lifestyle of buying cereal and getting groceries are boring and nerve wrenching as life in combat has become something he is use to reminding the viewer of the quote shown at the beginning of the film “the rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug.”

SEE IT. I call Oscar nod for Best Picture, Best Editing, Best Sound, and/or Best Sound Mixing.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 10, 2009 8:40 PM

    >Greetings.I just saw your comment on Roger Ebert's most recent journal entry, and I just wanted to extend a hand and announce that there are many online critics in the world, like you, who are devoted to writing tasteful review, and promoting quality, rather than just reusing the word "awesome" to describe action blokcbusters. Continue to do what you do.

  2. August 12, 2009 5:42 AM

    >Thank you so much! I truly appreciate the kind words!

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