Old 08-30-2009, 01:29 PM
Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker

The Hurt Locker (2008)

Kathryn Bigelow's "The Hurt Locker" is a film that has been getting a reputation for the past couple of months with people calling it one of the best films of the year thus far and an early contender for Academy Award consideration. In a way, this puts a lot of pressure on the film to be that good as it now must uphold that reputation. Question is, does it?

The film tells the story of an E.O.D. (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) unit in Iraq. The members of the team are Sgt. Matt Thomson (Guy Pearce), Sgt. JT Sanborn (Anthony Mackie), and Spc. Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty). As the film opens, the team is dealing with disposing of a bomb in the middle of the street. Thomson, in the special explosives disposal suit, must go in and place some charges on top of it to explode the bomb in a safe manner. However, things go wrong and he is killed when a nearby hostile detonates the bomb using a cell phone.

SSgt. William James (Jeremy Renner) is brought in to replace him. We quickly learn that James is very reckless when it comes to disposing of explosives, something that bothers Sanborn quite a bit. The rest of the film follows the team from one situation to another as they must dispose of more explosives and even deal with a shootout when they try to help some stranded soldiers.

I'll say right off the bat that this is a good film, despite the few complaints I have about it. It manages to be compelling from opening to closing, not slowing down enough to cause any serious problems. James is an interesting character to watch. Sanborn's complaints about his reckless behavior are justified. This behavior leaves us wondering if he won't blow himself to bits on one of these missions.

That said, it was his behavior that cut way down on the suspense of his early missions. He seems so indifferent towards his own life and acts like he is never really in any danger, therefore, we never feel as though he is in any real danger. Sure, he really good at what he does, but acting cocky here is probably not the best thing for the situation, nor is it the best tool for building any suspense.

With his strange behavior during the missions, it seemed strange that his CO would let him continue going on missions. Aside from this behavior, it would have been nice if Bigelow had allowed some time for the suspense to build. For the first two bomb disposal missions that James goes on, it felt like all he did was walk up and snip a pair of wires, ending the mission rather quickly, which is great for the mission, not so great for tension.

These two missions do result in some very startling images, such as when he thinks he's disposed of the only bomb around, only to find that he is surrounded by about eight more, which he reveals when he pulls on a wire connecting them all. Another example comes when he is called to dispose of what authorities think is a bomb in the trunk of a car. When he opens the trunk, there is a large pile of bombs filling the trunk.

The film loses its way momentarily after these missions when James goes on a half-baked plan of revenge for a little boy he believes has been murdered. This does add to his reckless nature, as does the situation that follows when he orders his team to try and find a group responsible for a suicide bombing. However, his revenge plan doesn't really add anything to the film and for the later situation, you would think his team would have known better than to go into it without backup, especially since, as Sanborn points out, that is not part of their job.

The film does get back on its feet with the final mission involving a man who has a bomb strapped to his chest, but has changed his mind and wants the American soldiers to help him remove it. The tension in this scene is exactly what was missing from those two earlier missions. It is here where we see the true professionalism of James in action as he does everything he can to save this man's life, the recklessness set aside.

This is indeed a fine film despite its flaws. The first half flies by rather quickly and while the second half does have some pacing issues, the mission at the end puts it right back on track. I wasn't exactly blown away by it (no pun intended here at all), but it remains an engaging film. There's certainly a great story to be told in here somewhere, it's just not the great film I've been hearing about. 3/4 stars.
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Old 08-30-2009, 02:08 PM
Woah, spoilers everywhere!!

I'd only read this review if I'd already seen the movie. Just a little warning.
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Old 01-14-2010, 09:26 PM
“War is a Drug”

That is the ongoing theme presented in Kathryn Bigelow’s film The Hurt Locker, a movie that takes place during the Iraq war. It follows a bomb defusing team, who has a new team leader by the name of Special Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner). While the other two members, Sgt. JT Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Spc. Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty), want to do everything they can to stay alive; James is all about the thrill of defusing, so much so that he puts the others’ lives in jeopardy.

I’d be lying if I said that Kathryn Bigelow’s film The Hurt Locker was in the same vein of Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, or Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down. That is, a movie with intense, large scale action sequences that those movies are known for. Yet, that is in no way a hindrance of the movie itself, as the tension is thick and pulsating in the action, keeping the viewer on the edge of their seat. This comes in the form of the bomb defusing scenes, as well as a scene involving a sniper that definitely fits with the term “nail biting”.

Along with expertly crafted action scenes, the human moments from the three characters are solid all around. Jeremy Renner is excellent as the adrenaline seeking leader, but has moments where it doesn’t seem like he always has his head on his shoulders. Anthony Mackie is great as the “by the book” solider, the counterbalance to Renner’s renegade character. Brian Geraghty is also solid, showing a solider whose will is about to break due to the fact that he thinks he will die at any moment. There are also big name actors such as Guy Peirce, David Morse, and Ralph Finnes that show up in fine cameo bits as well.

In terms of directing, Bigelow opts for a documentary feel for the movie, acting as if you are there with the team, and putting you into the tension filled bomb disarming scenes, where the soldiers are surrounded by people who could be friend or foe. Along with that, Bigelow also opts for a lack of music during these scenes, making everything the tension that much more unbearable.

Yet, while most of the movie is solid, the movie hits a snag involving Renner’s character at a certain part of the film, sort of breaking away from the natural feel that the movie was going for. I think I understood the idea that the movie was going for, but it still seems to drag the movie down a bit.

Overall though, The Hurt Locker is a great movie about the war of Iraq, going for a character driven story about a soldier’s psyche, rather than standing on a soapbox to preach some message. The film definitely suits the theme of people who only feel alive if they are doing something dangerous, something that has been prevalent in other Bigelow movies; namely Blue Steel and Point Break. However, while those two movies focus more on the action, Bigelow revolves around the action, as well as the characters. It slips up a bit in the middle, but the nail biting tension, as well as the excellent acting and directing still make it a very good movie.

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