An astonishing look at the soldiers that make up an Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal team on duty in Baghdad, The Hurt Locker is a gruelling experience that may test its audience, but the payoff is remarkable.
When dealing with suspected IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices), the disposal unit must face a potentially hostile workplace, with an abundance of locals of whom any one may be an enemy. When a new member joins Bravo Company’s EOD unit, his cavalier attitude will cause conflict with the other members of his team – conflict within a team that could lead to their deaths. Whether they will survive one another is as much a concern as the risk they face from enemy insurgents.
Director Katherine Bigelow elects to comply with what is apparently a requirement when making a film about Iraq – she favours handheld camerawork with a grainy, washed-out look to generate the ‘feeling’ of being on the ground with the troops. This has almost become cliche, and yet in The Hurt Locker there is a sense that this is the right approach. When combined with prolonged takes and scenes that seem to last far longer than one may expect, the effect is of being dropped in the middle of the action as an embedded observer (just as the writer, Mark Boal, was, prompting this film). This is a remarkable achievement.
The action scenes in The Hurt Locker are gruelling marathons that will require a high level of both attention and stamina, and one walks out of the cinema drawn and fatigued. These scenes are shot with little release of tension, with Bigelow preferring to rachet up the pressure notch by notch until, when the sequence finally finishes, there is a sense of pure relief.
The performances are brilliant, with Jeremy Renner especially standing out as the cocksure bomb-tech Staff Sergeant William James. He manages the bravado of a man used to risking his life as his job with ease, while also completing the out-of-combat sequences with aplomb. This is really his movie, and he has taken charge and delivered. Around him, Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty as his unfortunate new team members are just as strong.
The Hurt Locker makes the more horrifying aspects of these men’s experiences seem very real, and one can’t help but be affected by the darkness that is all around them. It seems incredible that anyone could be capable of performing these jobs, and the film attempts to explain why at least some of them do. In this respect, it is a little less successful, as on its completion it still seems bizarre that anyone could volunteer for this.
As an action thriller, The Hurt Locker is extremely well made, and as an Iraq War film it has no peer – including the far less impressive In the Valley of Elah, which was also written by Boal. Highly recommended.Rating: