Posted by Matt Cooper on
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The Hurt Locker is a highly acclaimed war drama, winning both Best Picture and Best Director for Kathryn Bigelow at the Academy Awards. It tells the story of a bomb disposal team working in Iraq. After their first expert is killed, Sgt. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) are assigned a new team member Sgt. James (Jeremy Renner). James soon becomes unpopular with the two due to his maverick approach to bomb disposal, disregarding rules, and disrespecting orders. The opening sequence of the film where we see the work of a bomb disposal team is a masterclass in building tension. Director Kathryn Bigelow uses close-ups to great effect and it is almost unwatchable at times as you know that at any second they could all be obliterated. There is a creeping sense of dread due to the live explosive in the scene and it is expertly stretched throughout so that there is never a dip in your feeling of uncertainty and terror. That is one of the great strengths of the film, and it is repeated in a later sequence involving snipers. It creates a paranoia and fear in the audience that chimes with the emotions of the characters. You are trapped in their world, with the excitement and horror of what they are witnessing.
The quote at the beginning of the film that "war is a drug" gives an insight into the films central theme. That these men cannot really escape what they are doing as they are addicted to the adrenaline. When we see James return home we can see that he is attracted to his dangerous job, more than the quiet family life he has in America. The film has received criticism from veterans and experts on the unbelievable risks that the team take, with many arguing it is portraying the army in a bad light as ill-disciplined adrenaline junkies. That is certainly true. There are many things which are probably not accurate to how operations really take place. But as a piece of theatre and and investigation into the human psyche and the pathological desire to be in violent or extreme situations it works well.
The film is shot in a very realistic style, with hand-held camera work, close-ups, and a lot of scenes of the soldiers doing their jobs. This helps take you inside their world, but it sometimes means that there is little to grasp onto in terms of story. Instead it has a more documentary-like feel, where there is no especial purpose to what they are doing. It doesn't beat you over the head with a political message either, being very character centred. In some ways the actual war is unimportant, this same story could have been told using any backdrop of war from the last hundred years. If you are a fan of films like Jarhead or Saving Private Ryan this is definitely a must watch. While it is a little overlong the incredible set-pieces are definitely worth seeing.