tongue-tied lightning

The Hurt Locker (Bigelow, 2009)
August 24, 2009, 10:27 AM
Filed under: film


From the very first scene of The Hurt Locker, director Kathryn Bigelow makes it abundantly clear that anything can happen.  This is a great choice and lends the subsequent bomb-disarming and battle scenes an air of gravitas absent from most war films.  To make a trite comparison, watching a John Wayne film, you are fairly certain The Duke isn’t going to die in battle, which robs the battle scenes of the suspense they shoud possess.  Similarly, you are positive Tom Hanks isn’t going to die storming Normandy.   This is not a problem in Bigelow’s film.   The scenes are so well choreographed and edited they create a sense of suspense that would make Hitchcock proud, and indeed, the master’s Bomb Theory is realized quite literally.  I say this with no basis for comparison in reality, but never before has a war film felt so real to me.

The film centers around Jeremy Renner, who is the team leader of a three man bomb-disarming squad.  The film’s epigraph states “war is a drug” and it becomes clear early on that Renner’s character sees it as such.  Bigelow does a fantastic job of making the audience complicit in his addiction.   Certainly the adrenaline rush he gets from disarming bombs is similar to the feelings we get watching horror or action films, and as each scene builds upon the suspense built up in the last this becomes more and more apparent.

The film is not perfect.  While I enjoyed the scenes between missions that gave depth to Renner’s character, particularly a few involing an Iraqi boy selling pirated DVDs, the story arc of the Sgt. Eldrige character seemed a bit too… easy?  He certainly never breaks out of a character type present in many war films.  And while Anthony Mackie turns in a wonderful performance, aside from one telling scene we are never given much insight into his thought processes, and even then it is to provide contrast to Renner’s character.

There is a wonderful shot towards the end, of Renner, home from war, grocery shopping with his wife.  Standing in the cereal aisle, he is overwhelmed by it and we realize he hasn’t had to make a choice like this in over a year, never has he had so many options and never have they had littler effect on his life.  This leads to the conclusion of the film that is as tragic as it is inevitable.


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