Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow
Premise: Set in Iraq in 2004, a staff sergeant (Jeremy Renner) joins an Army bomb squad that is kept busy diffusing roadside bombs and other explosives. The staff sergeant’s reckless actions put him into conflict with the other soldiers on his team.
What Works: The Hurt Locker is an extremely well-crafted combat film. Shot in a low tech, handheld style, the film captures the heat and occasional chaos of the war front. As an Iraq War film, The Hurt Locker distinguishes itself from so many disappointing attempts at dramatizing the conflict by leaving the politics of the United States’ involvement in Iraq out of the film and focusing on daily life on the ground. As a result, the film has an immediacy and a sharpness of focus that makes it a very tense film. Although there isn’t much violence actually on the screen, the atmosphere of the picture manages a tone of impending danger, and director Kathryn Bigelow stages the scenes of bomb diffusion very well, stacking up the threats from the explosives, from insurgents, and from the staff sergeant’s recklessness. The film’s use of sound is impressive; The Hurt Locker does not use a score although there are some atonal sounds or chords that come across very effectively and the sound effects support the sense of impending danger.
What Doesn’t: The Hurt Locker has an unexpected third act. Rather than resolving the rifts in the relationship between the men in combat, the film shifts them back to the home front for a brief respite before returning them to Iraq. That is the point of the film, that the adrenaline and danger of war can become an addiction, driving the soldiers to return to the place they wanted to get out of, but it is a point made subtly and it defies a lot of the expectations audiences have for war films.
Bottom Line: The Hurt Locker is one of the best films about the Iraq War that has yet been made. It is also a meditation on the lives of those whose daily jobs place them in the line of fire and attentive viewers will find it to be a thoughtful and gripping film.
Episode: #254 (September 6, 2009)