The Hurt Locker (2009)

Director:  Kathryn Bigelow
Jeremy RennerAnthony MackieBrian Geraghty, Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes

Plot:  Iraq.  Forced to play a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse in the chaos of war, an elite Army bomb squad unit must come together in a city where everyone is a potential enemy and every object could be a deadly bomb.

Genre:  Drama / Thriller / War
Awards:  Won 6 Oscars - Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing.  Nom. for 3 Oscars - Best Leading Actor, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score.  Nom. for Golden Lion (Venice).
Runtime:  131min
Rating:  M18 for war violence and language.

The action woman is back with The Hurt Locker.  Kathryn Bigelow, the director of Point Break (1991) and Strange Days (1995), returns to top form with this critically-acclaimed war picture after the flop of K19: The Widowmaker (2002).  Filmed in Jordan, The Hurt Locker is set in Iraq during its recent American invasion a few years back.

It follows a team of three U.S soldiers whose daily job is to defuse unexploded bombs or to tackle bomb threats.  In this team, there is one specialist who suits up in protective gear and goes right up to the bomb to nullify its threat while his buddies provide defensive cover for him from a distance.

The Hurt Locker builds upon the principle of suspense filmmaking and nothing else.  The fear of a bomb exploding remains to be one of the most surefire ways to induce queasiness in cinemagoers. Here, Bigelow employs an array of film techniques (some excellent, some flawed) to intensify that fear, cranking the tension to at times unbearable levels.

In the opening scene, she shows her action credentials in perhaps the film’s most outstanding set-piece – a slow build-up of suspense which accumulates in a massive, heart-thumping explosion.  With such an impressive introduction, it takes a great director to follow-up and maintain the interest of his viewers.  

Bigelow, however good she is, is not a great filmmaker.  She manages to sustain the suspense for most parts, but because of the lack of a driving plot and the overuse of the ‘shaky’ camera approach, her film becomes less interesting over the course of two hours.

Unlike most war films, The Hurt Locker has no story but only a series of chronological accounts of men in endless bomb-threat scenarios.  Perhaps the only form of ‘narrative sense’ that could be observed is that the film intends to show the futility of war through its unpredictability.

How does one preserve his sanity in such a vocation?  “Don’t think about it,” says the lead character James (Jeremy Renner) who has defused more than eight hundred bombs in his career.  In a fairly ironic scene late on, James, having had to choose a box cereal for his family, becomes overwhelmed by the sheer number of different brands available on the shelves of the supermarket.

For once, he is stunned because he has ample time to make a decision and that he ‘thinks about it’.  “Is my decision the best?  Did I choose correctly?  Hell, I’d rather defuse a bomb than choose a box of cereal!” his blank stare seems to suggest.

Bigelow’s overuse of the ‘shaky’ camera becomes nauseating after a while, even though it is essential to a certain extent in creating the docu-realism feel which plays a part in the heightening of the suspense.  And then there is the use of slow-motion in a couple of shots which look out of place in a film emphasizing on the rules of time and reality.

Nevertheless, The Hurt Locker remains to be one of the better action pictures of the year.  I foresee possible Oscar nominations for sound mixing and sound editing.  Despite its flaws, this is a film to be experienced (however just once) in the theaters.


Click here to go back to Central Station.




Jaxon Bieber said…
I am not a huge hulu blacklist fan of war movies but wanted to watch this one because of its academy award wins and things I had heard about it. It is extremely well done and the acting and the way it is shot makes you forget it is not a documentary; you truly felt you were following these guys around. The film did a great job of capturing the brevity of the situation and the hideous outcomes that occur when human bodies are in proximity to explosive devices without constantly having blood and body parts flying all over the place. There is some gore but it is not the point of the film and is not sensationalized. it is not a light film watch32 but certainly is deserving of the many awards it won.
Eternality Tan said…
Thanks for your thoughts - can't believe it has been 9 years already!

Popular Posts