Well there you go… The Hurt Locker is the Best Picture for 2009, it now ranks amongst such classics as Schindler’s List, Braveheart, Dances with Wolves, Forrest Gump, Platoon and more recently, The Departed, No Country for Old Men and Slumdog Millionaire. It’ll be remembered as the film that beat the box office’s “#1 movie of all time” and denied James Cameron’s heart from going on…
After slaying the Goliath that is Avatar, sticking it to James ‘Titanic’ Cameron and completely overriding the seriousness of the Na’vi genocide, you’d probably think The Hurt Locker is pretty good, right? Well, the short answer is ‘yes it is, but keep it in your pants’. The Hurt Locker is probably the best reviewed film of 2009 and that’s what counts when it comes to most awards seasons.
Kathryn Bigelow’s war thriller seeks to put you right in the middle of the latest Iraq conflict much like Oliver Stone did with Platoon. Being in the thick of things means no political assessment or primed villains… it’s just taking it as it comes, whether you’re in the desert or the jungle. The story follows a trio of soldiers as they are put through a tour of duty with the sole purpose of disarming bombs, under Staff Sergeant William James.
The Hurt Locker is filmed with handheld cameras, which gives that documentary reality feel to the squad’s missions. The shaky cameras aren’tBlair Witch frenetic, but keep the view uneasy… adding to the overall tension of the war drama as James disarms bombs under time pressure situations, involving emotional compromise, hard-and-fast ethics and gung-ho opportunism.
The performances aren’t extraordinary, but feed into the palpable tension in a similar fashion to Tobey Maguire and Jake Gyllenhaal’s relationship inBrothers. William James is a disarmament expert, whose ‘nothing to lose’ state of mind makes him as devastating as a kamikaze pilot. It’s not altruistic as much as it’s an addiction to adrenalin and old-fashioned know-how. His brother-in-arms, Sergeant JT Sanborn, sees his role in the war as a job rather than a head-rush and the two clash on a number of “bad” calls.
Jeremy Renner was nominated for an Oscar for his performance in The Hurt Locker, although it seems like more of a nod to the film’s ability to create tension rather than to a stand-out performance. It’s good – solid actually, but not as convincing as Tobey Maguire in Brothers. Anthony Mackie also delivers a solid performance as a springboard and conscience for Renner to demonstrate his reckless character, while third-in-command, Brian Geraghtycould have done with some more screen time as Specialist Owen Eldridge.
The Hurt Locker is not an anti-war film. On some levels you could argue that it’s trying to promote heroics and align itself with the experiences of an adrenalin junkie or cocaine addict. The slightly controversial tag line “War is a Drug” features as a thread through James’s tour of duty. You could even find parallels between The Hurt Locker and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
Bigelow’s production is totally outstripped by the scope and budget of Avatar, but it’s the immersive documentary handheld cameras and gripping disarmament scenes that leave a lasting impression. Kubrick created a similar tension in the closing stages of Full Metal Jacket and Bigelow sustains this taut atmosphere the entire duration of the film, while the suspended sense of reality makes it feel as though anything can happen.
The narrative doesn’t follow traditional Hollywood conventions as the film bogs down with a focus on the job, instead of assessing the political climate and cutting out enemy targets. Instead, The Hurt Locker comes across as a series of short scenes, each with their own climax instead of slowly building up to a crescendo like most films… holding the audience’s attention and keeping a good pace throughout.
The Hurt Locker is a thinking man’s war thriller, which means it’s not for everyone and will not impress you if you don’t consider Saving Private Ryan,Platoon and Full Metal Jacket to be some of the greatest films ever made. It’s still violent, disturbing and cuts close to the bone on several occasions as James gets his fix, but as an audience you’re always there… ready, watching and waiting.
The bottom line: Taut.