The Hurt Locker
Now Showing at: AMC Newport on the Levee; Rave West Chester; Showcase Springdale; and the Esquire Theatre.
Review by: Larry Thomas
Sometimes, films rooted in reality can be hard to take, especially when dealing with war. The filmmakers need to put aside politics and ideology, and get the right blend of story, cast, and crew in order to make a successful film. There have been many attempts to bring the wars in the Middle East to the big screen, beginning with Three Kings during the first Gulf war. Most of these have not been successful, either commercially or critically. Until now.
The Hurt Locker is a low budget film with a cast you’ve never heard of, packed with emotion, suspense and some of the most intense scenes yet to be in a movie.
The expression “The Hurt Locker” is military speak for being in a world of pain…as in “explosions will send you to The Hurt Locker.” Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, and Brian Geraghty are an elite bomb disabling squad in Baghdad. It is their job to suit up, get in under fire, and snip the wires that will disable massive bombs. These guys are a different breed…not crazy, not reckless, but perhaps adrenaline junkies. As the quote says which opens the movie, “war is a drug.” All three performances are excellent, but Jeremy Renner as Will James, a wild man who, at times, does seem crazy and reckless, gives a star-making, award-winning performance. We may not understand what motivates him, but to use a cliché, we feel his pain.
There are brief cameo appearances by Guy Pearce, David Morse, and Ralph Fiennes, but they are certainly not in the “look, I’m a movie star in a low-budget film” vein. The faces may be familiar, but they show up and exit seamlessly.
Adding to the tension is the camera work. In the close action scenes, hand-held 16mm cameras are used so movement plays a role. This isn’t the show-off “shaky-cam” style used in so many action films today, but more of a “you are there” expression. The locations were not the California desert, or some other exotic locale. The film was shot in and around Amman, Jordan, just over the border from Iraq. I’m sure the cast and crew have their own stories of being so close to the real thing.
Another great star of The Hurt Locker is director Kathryn Bigelow. She’s been making movies for some thirty years. On her resume are Near Dark, the best vampire film of the 1980s; Blue Steel, with Jamie Lee Curtis as a rookie cop being stalked by a psycho; and Point Break, about a group of surfing bank robbers, with Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves. She has the experience and ability to make good-looking films that have both action and substance. After a six-year hiatus, Bigelow is back with a bang, delivering a film that will be on many ten best lists at the end of the year.
Keep in mind that, being a war film, it is violent, with a couple of scenes being almost excruciating in their intensity. And yes, it is a movie, so I’m sure it’s been Hollywood-ized to a certain extent for dramatic purposes, and could not possibly reflect the actual day-to-day life of troops in Iraq. Regardless, it is still a major film achievement.