DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: The Hurt Locker

Wednesday 22 July 2009

The Hurt Locker

The Hurt Locker (2009) dir. Kathryn Bigelow
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty, Ralph Fiennes, Guy Pearce, Evangeline Lilly


"The Hurt Locker" might be the best of the recent Middle East-themed films - the story of a bomb disposal unit in Iraq is told with documentary-like realism and with Bigelow's trademark flare for rough and rumble action. It's certainly a well deserved comeback for Ms. Bigelow, but I just had the knawing feeling that it's all been done before.

Jeremy Renner is staff sergeant William James, a soldier through and through, a fearless renegade who seems to have already accepted his death, and thus he's the perfect man for the job of disarming bombs. When he joins B-Company, he quickly takes the frontline detail. Shocking his superiors, he boldly puts on his armour gear and approaches his bombs without a second thought.

Few people in B company want to be there and few want to go above and beyond the call of duty especially after the tragedy of the intense opening scene. Does James have a death wish? His loyal wife and daughter who remain at home awaiting his return seems to contradict his carefree attitude. He rarely opens up and keeps an emotional distance from his fellow soldiers, only to the audience does he expose his fragile emotional state - like being alone in the shower. So Bigelow saves from military melodrama and dramatic confessions, keeping it all on the sharp edge of reality.

While Renner is a fine discovery, showing us some skills in arena of enigmatic cinema loners, he's also a familiar character. We're specifically reminded of Colin Farrell's breakout performance in Joel Schumacher's "Tigerland" - a rebellious anti-hero, marching to his own beat eschewing the traditional military procedures. And as expected he's also kind and protective of the local children as well as his overwhelmed younger, more scared compatriots.

The action scenes are intense and compelling but the dramatic sniper ambushes and tense bomb disarmings are nothing we haven't seen any other war films. And the central conflict of James, who seems addicted to the rush of combat and who finds himself out of place in the real world, is also familiar.

For fans of Kathryn Bigelow, it's an important addition to her body of work. Bigelow has always seemed to capture the rawness of masculinity better than most others. The distraction of the soldiers' hardcore video games and the thrashing metal music they listen to are classic Bigelow touches. There's also a sloppiness to her male characters, and like "Near Dark" and "Strange Days" Bigelow exposes the juvenility of men and their instinctual need for self-destruction. At one point Bigelow shoots a scene of James and Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) wrestling aggressively on the ground for no reason other than boredom. It's brutal and rough, ending in a knife being drawn. While it shows the fragile state of James it points the finger at the military for training these youngsters with base animal aggression.

"The Hurt Locker" is a good war film, though not the earth shattering masterpiece as proclaimed by many other critics. Enjoy.

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