Posted by: da_nibbler | January 16, 2010

Review: ‘The Hurt Locker’

When you hear “war film” you expect a lot of action, explosions and mayhem. Basically a Michael Bay film. Fortunately Kathryn Bigelow is responsible for this one, otherwise we would have seen quite a different film (one that wouldn’t be shopped around as Best Film 2009).

While we do get action and explosions, The Hurt Locker focuses on suspense more than action. Following a bomb-squad during their rotation in Iraq the film opens with the main bomb defuse guy being blown to bits and the arrival of his substitute, Staff Sgt. William James. He personifies the tagline the film opened with, “war is a drug”. The constant adrenaline rush that is deffusing bombs under enemy fire is his addiction. Some people go basejumping, swim with sharks, climb the highest mountain or jump out of planes. Others get their kick from being shot at or possibly blowing up any second.

The Hurt Locker is a mesmerizing war story and Bigelow gives it the necessary time to breathe. She deliberately takes her time establishing scenarios and situations to make sure the viewer gets the full-on experience of what these men go through. No rushes, no fancy wannabe warlike, crazy, shaky cinematography with which you’re supposedly feel right in the middle of things. Bigelow achieves that with an anobtrusive camera that is only there to capture the psychological drama. The frame is literally dripping with suspense and sweat. It feels like a documentary without looking like one. I wouldn’t have been surprised to have Richard Engel pop in any second for a narrative. Not that the film needs that.

Great performances by a (to me) unknown principal cast with some names splashed here and there for support. Not that they are really needed, but I applaud Bigelow for blowing one of her big-name-actors to shreds within the first few minutes to have him replaced by the actual protagonist of the film. Too seldom do we see this happen. Big names hardly ever die, especially at the beginning of a film. Way to go breaking with these boring conventions.

The film has some powerful scenes that are hard to shake. Addicted bomb deffuser James finds a bomb he doesn’t enjoy deffusing – inside a young boy’s body. A man lingering forever in the cereal aisle, overwhelmed by all the choices. Throughout the film we have witnessed that same man make split-second life or death decisions. That scene more than anything encompasses the whole film for me.

Less choices, albeit bigger, more important ones like life and death, make for a simpler life. No necessity for the hundreds of thousands of little details we have to face every single day in our “normal” lives. Add to that the rush of living the extremes make for an addictive cycle. “War is a drug”. And somehow we have come full circle.

“Every time you suit up, every time we go out it’s life or death. You roll the dice and you deal with it.”

I can’t wait to see the first woman win the Academy Award for Best Director. Bigelow really has a shot this time.



  1. The film Michael Bay wished he made. Kathryn Bigelow is a master of action and she should win the Oscar for best director. This is the the best movie ever made about the current Iraq war and it could hold that title for decades.

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