Today I watched Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker (2008)
The Hurt Locker follows an American military bomb disposal team in Iraq who have lost their commanding officer after a mission goes south on them. Their new C.O. is William James, played by Jeremy Renner, and immediately there is tension between him and the rest of the team, played by Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraght, because James is a maverick. James’ takes unnecessary risks and is a bit of a loner; he risks his own life and those of his squad-mates by not keeping them in the loop and because he is so flippant in his approach to bomb disposal. We follow the team through trials and travails as the film focuses on their psychological reaction these soldiers have to the war around them and the actions they have to take in order to survive and succeed.
Before I get into how great this film is, and it is great, I have one major problem with it and it has to do with those issues with making an anti-war war film I bring up virtually every time I review a film like this. Despite all the dark subject matter and disturbing psychology, this is a rather pro-war film, or more specifically pro-soldier, which really is the same thing. This is a recruitment add, look at the male bonding, look at the excitement, look at the challenge, it is all very appealing. More condemning is how this film shows, but then completely glosses over the killing of POWs and civilians by American soldiers in cold blood, as though it isn’t even an issue. That is the problem with focusing on soldiers, they have a simplified view of the conflict and because they are the protagonists, that simplified perspective is the audience’s perspective. So the real complexity of the film’s themes comes from the soldiers psychology instead of the nature of the conflict, yet because the film has likable protagonists the real darkness in their hearts is never fully explored. The film tries to bring these themes to life through James’ adrenaline addiction, but he is far to successful at his job for this flaw to be anything greater than personal, this ‘flaw’ might even be a boon to him more times that it hinders him, it might even motivate him to do good things beyond the call of duty like trying to save an unwilling suicide bomber.
With that major criticism out of he way, lets move into the meat of this film, the intensity and thrill. The cinematography is very immediate, taking cues from real war photography and mixing it with some damn fine editing. The film does a great job of getting the audience inside the paranoia of the characters who have to deal with the possibility of being blown up pretty much daily. Not only is this a huge compliment to the work of the actors, but also to Bigelow’s understanding and implementation of emotive imagery. Oh and I haven’t even started on the great soundtrack which frequently invokes the buzzing of tinnitus to increase tension, often blending with the diegetic soundscape to really immerse the audience.
This film is a very exciting and tense action/thriller crafted with top level film making skills. That being said, the film seems to bungle it’s themes, it seems to endorse modern soldiery despite the massive mental damage it does to people. It actually just glosses over most of this despite being such a cerebral film, the characters are almost idolized because of their ability to cope with the mental baggage. I think the film is too preoccupied with having protagonists to succeed at having the themes it presents itself as having. But aside from that this is an incredibly thrilling and well paced flick with very well written characters and intense action, there are many war films that deal with the implications of war and the theme of war being a drug better, but few of those are as suspenseful as this. 4/5