The Hurt Locker

The Hurt Locker

***1/2

Reviewed by: Stephen Carty

Another movie about the Iraq war? Don't let that put you off. The Hurt Locker is actually a thrill-ride that merely uses Baghdad as a sun-beaten and barren setting in which to place its pulse-pounding goings-on. Instead of trying to sneak political musings into the mainstream or pandering to the morons with mindless action, director Kathryn Bigelow is primarily concerned with putting us right in the middle of the edge-of-death situations...

When their previous commander is killed in the line of duty, explosive disposal troops Sgt Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) are joined by Staff Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner). Though highly competent at disarming every bomb he comes across, James' rule-breaking and reckless nature soon begin to worry Sanborn and Eldridge. And after the death of a local boy he'd befriended, the thrillseeker finds himself questioning what he really wants.

Ironically for a movie about a team who disarm explosive devices, there aren't many bangs. Impressively though, when there are, they really hit big and look nothing short of stunning (see the opening kah-blewey). More important to Bigelow are notions she's dealt with before - addiction, macho risk-seeking and obsessive drive. Combining the adrenalin-seeking of her Point Break with the subject matter of Peter Berg's The Kingdom and style of Paul Greengrass' United 93, it's an impressive return for the former Mrs James Cameron.

There are complaints to be had, though. There's not much in the way of story or character, the denouement isn't particularly satisfying and given the amount of slow-build (which builds and builds and then builds some more) we gets lots of dialogue-free scenes that sometimes drag. Still, even though it's little more than a collection of set-pieces shot with a handheld doc-style, there's no denying that there’s tension to spare.

Based on screenwriter and co-producer Mark Boal's experiences as an embedded reporter, there's also a note-perfect air of credibility. Shot in Jordan close to the Iraqi border with cinematographer Barry Ackroyd, using four handheld cameras simultaneously (which generated 200 hours of footage for the poor editor to sift through), you really feel like your boots are crunching down on the dusty warscape while your chums frantically search for anything resembling sinister. Mobile phone? Gun!

As our anti-hero, Renner (often resembling a chunkier Jason Bateman) is the best of our mostly-unknown main trio. Interestingly, all the small roles are filled by more famous faces as we get surprise appearances (well, stop reading if you want them to remain a surprise...) from Guy Pierce, Ralph Fiennes, David Morse and Evangeline 'Kate from Lost' Lilly.

Not another boring 'war is bad' Iraq-conflict movie but yet not a dumb explosion-fest, The Hurt Locker is an impressive, if somewhat storyless, thrill-ride. It has bangs, but not the kind you’ll be expecting.

Reviewed on: 18 Oct 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:

Trinity ****1/2
Nick Da Costa ****

Festivals:

EIFF 2009

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