Film Reviews

The Hurt Locker Kathryn Bigelow

Rating - 8/10

The Hurt Locker is a welcome return for Kathryn Bigelow.  It is also her best film since her debut masterpiece Near Dark.  Just as that movie stripped away all of the ridiculous trappings and cliches of vampire lore to create a gritty, intense classic, The Hurt Locker avoids and subverts the familiar trappings of the war movie in order to create one of the most powerful, personal accounts of the experience.

Where most war movies strain to develop a sizeable ensemble on an epic scale, Bigelow focuses on a single bomb disposal unit (that's three guys) for the length of the picture.  An opening depicting the death of a leader and tech is a marvel of concision, immediately establishing the character's rapport, the trappings of their missions, and the fatal stakes therein.  The two remaining team members must perservere for another 39 days (the movie frames itself by ticking down the days left in their rotation) under a new tech.

As the new leader, Jeremy Renner quickly becomes the focus of the movie and the team under him.  A cowboy who seeks out danger, he draws the ire of his frayed team, who are hypersensitive to the amount of opportunities he creates for all of them to be killed.  When Anthony Mackie, the sensible identifying character and foil to Renner's recklessness, hypothetically ponders creating an accidental death for his tech, it doesn't sound like the craziest idea.  Throughout the movie, Renner and Mackie create one of the most convincing portraits of military tension and bonding without indulging in tired platitudes.

The characters in The Hurt Locker do not have the time or luxury for hackneyed speechifying.  The most on-the-nose the movie gets in explaining its characters involves one soldier's relationship with a military psychiatrist, but even this is handled tactfully.  Most character development is revealed in action and behavior, as the repetition and danger of war gradually wear them down.  There is no grand mission but lasting through rotation, with monotony and interchangable daily missions laden with the constant threat of escalation and/or sudden death.

For the most part, Bigelow creates one of the most accomplished first-person accounts of war ever filmed, avoiding imposed politics and philosophy to focus, unrelieved, on her small core of characters.  Shooting independently without movie stars in Jordan (playing 2004 Baghdad more convincingly than an insured Hollywood location could), Bigelow's ground level recreations are flawless.  Even a mid-movie multi-cameo featuring Ralph Fiennes, Guy Pierce and David Morse is less a distraction than one of the tensest desert firefights yet captured.

Only at the very end does the movie arguably falter.  While Renner is undeniably the most memorable and sharply drawn character, Mackie is also the most sympathetic and ultimately admirable.  As the movie concludes, Mackie is dropped and the movie indicates itself as Renner's story.  Renner's fate is fitting, but narratively the movie dissapoints in settling what has become it's most fascinating relationship.  Such a quibble pales, however, in the trememdous accomplishment.  With The Hurt Locker, Bigelow has contributed her own great war film, and the best treatment yet seen on the Iraq War.