Review: “The Hurt Locker”

July 10, 2009 at 8:48 pm Leave a comment

Leave it up to a woman to give us the most intelligent action-thriller so far this summer.  Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker is tense, funny, and every bit as ‘manly’ as any other blockbuster this summer (minus the giant robots or Leonard Nimoys).  The Hurt Locker follows a squad of American soldiers in Iraq, who just happened to be trained in Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD).  That means their job is to diffuse or dispose of the bombs that insurgents like to leave lying around.

After the death of their EOD technician, Sgt. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Spc. Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) must deal with the new replacement: S Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner).  James apparently has some kind of death wish as he willingly puts the rest of his squad in unnecessary danger while he goes about his duties disarming bombs.  This obviously doesn’t sit well with Sanborn and Eldridge, who must watch his back and protect him from threats that aren’t bombs.

The Hurt Locker isn’t a typical action movie, as it doesn’t seem to follow any particular story arc; it’s more like the (mis)adventures of an EOD team, trying to stay alive until they are rotated out of Iraq.  However, watching them go about their missions is enough for a movie like this.  We see them disarm bombs, play cat-and-mouse with a deadly sniper, discover bomb-making facilities, and venture off without support into dark city streets.  What holds all these scenes together is this tense feeling of imminent death.  None of their enemies wears a uniform; they could be businessmen walking around in the streets, shop owners, holy men in their mosques, anyone.  The movie is at its best when you have no idea where the threat is coming from, only that it is there.

Visually, this looks like one would expect about a war movie set in Iraq.  Similar to the Peter Berg-helmed actioner The Kingdom, it’s all handheld and cinema verite with lots of browns in the day, and blue-greens at night.  The sound design is also solid; the voices of the crowds coming through clear throughout the theatre, and the aforementioned sniper scene was made much more intense with the sound of close-up and distant rifles firing.

The Hurt Locker, to me, is a stronger film than something like Public Enemies.  Though they deal with different subjects, they both are about reckless men doing reckless things.  And while Michael Mann attempted to lead John Dillinger through a story, Kathryn Bigelow forgoes much of the story to focus on atmosphere and tension.  To compare her to another male director, Michael Bay also ditches story in his latest movie, but he instead focuses on spectacle.  To Bigelow’s credit, going for spectacle in a movie about a war still not officially over may do a disservice to the men and women still put in harms way.  Instead, she gives us basically a ‘day in the life’ of these soldiers.  This movie isn’t about supporting or protesting the Iraq War, it’s about showing us what our military does and what it has to deal with ‘over there’.

8/10

(images from Yahoo!)

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Review: “Public Enemies” Review: “(500) Days of Summer”

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