Friday 12 February 2010

Movie Review: The Hurt Locker (2008)

No so much a traditional movie as a series of tension-packed set-pieces, The Hurt Locker succeeds in re-creating the extreme and continuous pressure faced by the army units responsible for deactivating and disposing of improvised explosive devices (IEDs). And with IEDs being by far the weapon of choice of insurgents in Iraq, the men responsible for neutralizing them are effectively the front line.

Jeremy Renner as Sergeant William James brings life and personality as the bomb disposal expert, freaking out his unit on a regular basis with his unconventional and apparently risky methods. It's a polished but still stereotypical portrayal of the war hero who thrives by ignoring all the rules. The rest of the characters in The Hurt Locker are routine in the extreme and exchangeable with any number of soldiers who have populated war movies for the past 70 years or so.

The movie builds all of its drama around a series of well constructed exclamation points, as bombs (and in one case, snipers) are discovered and the unit needs to swing into action to understand and eliminate the threat. The ticking bomb is one of the oldest movie tricks in the repertoire, but Director Kathryn Bigelow manages to maintain a high stress level mainly by injecting uncertainty everywhere: are the Iraqis on the balconies curious on-lookers or about to detonate the bombs? Are the civilians wandering near the bomb disposal unit naive innocents or themselves a danger?

The tight rope that the soldiers must walk between protecting themselves and not harming innocent locals is at the heart of The Hurt Locker. There is a clumsy attempt to introduce the story of a local Iraqi boy who befriends Sergeant James, but whenever The Hurt Locker veers away from scenes that focus on immediate threats, it loses its way.

The war in Iraq will no doubt inspire a new generation of war movies. The Hurt Locker is unlikely to be the best of them, but it deserves credit for shining a unique spotlight on one of the war's most thankless and dangerous jobs.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

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