The Hurt Locker isn’t a film that jumps out at you as a front-runner for the Best Picture Oscar while you are watching it. It has the feel of a small-scale film, focused on a specific subject in a specific setting, with largely unknowns in the lead roles. But don’t let that put you off. It is undoubtedly one of the best films of the year.
I would call The Hurt Locker an American war suspense-action-thriller. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow (K-19: The Widowmaker, Point Break – yes, that’s right! Point Break!), it tells the story of an United States EOD (Explosives Ordnance Disposal) team in post US-invaded Iraq. To many viewers, it will be a world that is as foreign as Pandora from James Cameron’s Avatar.
The Hurt Locker a cut above most other post-911 war movies for several reasons.
First of all, it is probably the most suspenseful film in recent memory. The thrills come in waves, but when it comes, the tension is so unbelievably high that it made me forget how to breathe. Full credit must go to Bigelow, who combines life-and-death situations with documentary-style shooting to create an atmosphere that makes the audience feel like they are right there in the pressure cooker with the EOD team members.
Second, the script by Mark Boal is outstanding. Boal is a freelance journalist who actually spent time with a bomb squad in Iraq. This experience, coupled with his ability to create intriguing, well-developed characters, makes The Hurt Locker the most authentic-feeling Iraq war movie to date.
Third, the acting is first class. The three main leads (Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty) are considered relative no-names in Hollywood, but all deliver performances that bring their respective characters to life. Renner (28 Weeks Later) is particularly excellent and is well-deserving of his Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. He brings a brooding arrogance and obsessive quality to Sergeant First Class William James that makes the already-tense environment even more explosive. Renner’s face reminds me of a pudgier Jason Bateman, but his screen presence (according to a friend) is reminiscent of a young Mel Gibson (before he went off the rails, of course).
Lastly, I really enjoyed the subtlety of The Hurt Locker. It may be an anti-war movie at heart, but it doesn’t ram any political messages down your throat. There’s no American hero bravado or that ‘Americans are evil’ sentiment. There’s a telling image here and there, but for the most part, you can simply enjoy the movie for its intense action and ignore the underlying message.
Having raved about the film, it isn’t quite perfect. At 131 minutes, The Hurt Locker is probably 15-20 minutes too long, and partly because of this, the last third of the film isn’t quite as exhiliarating as the first two-thirds. However, these are only minor complaints in an otherwise superb film. The only thing really preventing The Hurt Locker from getting full marks from me is that I simply don’t think it is memorable enough. It may be one of the best films of the year, but it’s unlikely to be one of those classics people will easily recall years down the track.
4.5 stars out of 5!
[PS: I now think The Hurt Locker has a pretty good chance of beating Avatar for Best Picture because of this new preferential voting system. That said, I’m sticking with my prediction of Avatar for Best Picture. The one with the bigger chance of an upset could be Bigelow over her ex-husband James Cameron for Best Director. This is one of those years where voters seem to rally around a cause, and this year the stars may be aligned for the first ever female director to take the prize.]