The Hurt Locker

5 Apr

Director: Kathryn Bigelow (2008)

For the Academy to finally award Best Director to a woman, this film must be amazing. Historical, in fact. Scooping six Oscars and a deluge of other awards across the board, The Hurt Locker swept the floor with cinema in 2009. And boy was it deserved.

Opening with a title card quoting a line from Chris Hedges’ War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, The Hurt Locker lays out its message “War is a drug”. Unlike many other films about the Iraq war, or war in general, The Hurt Locker shies away from the high budget, elaborate battle scenes instead focusing on the quiet chaos the forces face each day. Only it moves beyond this, looking at the attitudes and fears of the men and the little shown fact that the thrill and adrenaline of war can itself become an addiction. Never is this more apparent than in new team leader, William James (Jeremy Renner).  Outspoken, fearless and as unarmed as the bombs themselves after he’s finished with them, he joins the more cautious team Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Eldridge(Brian Geraghty). And no wonder they are so cautious having just seen their previous team leader blown up by an IED.
One of the main motifs is the bomb suit itself, a heavy duty bomb proof suit, not too dissimilar to a space suit in appearance which is donned whenever advancing towards an unexploded bomb. Usually a last resort, for James, it is par for the course. His maverick attitude and disregard for protocol unnerves his team – and the viewer – but also hints that there is something lying beneath that has made him this way. But is this simply a reasoning we’ve accumulated from the war-film canon – a child or wife or dying relative waiting at home ? – or could we accept that some people just enjoy their job. And that is just what this is, a job, and one that James is pretty good at. But then all jobs take their toll.
Written with such expertise by freelance journalist Mark Boal, himself stationed in Iraq with a bomb squad, The Hurt Locker offers a refreshing realism to the sensationalised world of war. Casting a light on the many men who end up in combat from the guy who wants to go home, the one who is just doing his job and the one who lives for his job, The Hurt Locker prides itself on its superb characterisation. Filled with moments of unfathomable suspense as the three man team face death with every step, the film literally has you on the edge, facing the potential imminence of death right there with them. Sweat drips, dust swirls, trigger fingers quiver; life moves in slow motion as time stands still, hanging on baited breath. The cinematography is stunning, merging meaning into every frame with muted colours and hazy filters, casting a shadow of dust over a world that has to be experienced to be understood.
All this, and made by a woman without a single female protagonist.


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