The Hurt Locker

The Hurt Locker

****1/2

Reviewed by: Trinity

"The rush of battle is often a potent addiction because war is a drug"

When their unit chief is blown up trying to defuse a roadside bomb, Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit members Sergeant Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) don't initially gel with his replacement - Staff Sergeant James (Jeremy Renner) - and his reckless, maverick behaviour. In the hotzone of Baghdad, most soldiers simply want to make it to the end of their rotation - however, the trio must battle with explosives in the road as well as explosions in the team.

Kathryn Bigelow, long considered the only female director able to play with the big boys of the action genre, has shifted in tone and pace without losing the ability to paint an unrelenting, absolutely riveting and often unflattering portrait of frontline action through the eyes of brave people doing their best to survive. Based on a screenplay by Mark Boal, a freelance writer embedded with a bomb squad, and filmed in Jordan using displaced Iraqi actors, the film has gone to great lengths to bring a realistic vision of a war, which is putting everyone in the hurt locker.

Boal also wrote the short story that inspired the film In The Valley Of Elah and in this film there is the same sense of digging deeper than just the bullets and bravado. In exploring the dynamic between the unpredictable James, the Sanborn and the conflicted Eldridge the film is able to cut between talking about relationships to knives at throats. This sudden switch from euphoria to enmity, and the moments of relative calm that intersperse each sortie, recall the time-killing gangsters in Sonatine, another movie which puts you in amongst its characters so that you can feel their emotions.

Through the film we are witnesses to IEDs, suicide bombers, sniper ambushes and the horrors of the body bomb. Explosions, when they come, have been meticulously designed by special effects supervisor Richard Stutsman so that you can see every pebble, every mote of dust being flung towards you in slow motion. Likewise, the handheld camerawork, following from a point of view reminiscent of first-person shooter computer games, provides a palpable sense of the tension and the devastation which the current generation normally see filtered of all emotion through the medium of 24/7 rolling news and reality TV.

However, the real strength of The Hurt Locker is its trio of actors, in particular a standout performance by Renner as James. You are always on edge when he is on screen, both unable to empathise with his actions and yet willing him to survive. James' inability to get away from the adrenaline rush of each engagement is none clearer than in the contrast between the alleys of Baghdad and the rows of cereal in a supermarket - with the chintzy music - which is the scarier life? The terrible toll that the constant tension takes on the soul is expressed in the responses to James' actions from his team mates. His inability to properly connect, in particular, after an encounter with a young Iraqi boy, is an eloquent portrayal of the unrelenting loss of the things you love.

Is it triumphant that someone can be reduced to needing the thrill of the roll of the dice to feel alive? At one point, Eldridge says: "You need to come out from behind the wire to see what we do." This film pushes you past the safety of the fence and makes you see for yourself what war does to a man.

Reviewed on: 17 Jun 2009
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The Hurt Locker packshot
An elite bomb disposal unit struggles to function in the heart of the Iraq war.
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Read more The Hurt Locker reviews:

Nick Da Costa ****
Stephen Carty ***1/2

Festivals:

EIFF 2009

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