Thursday, 27 August 2009

The Hurt Locker - Review

Kathryn Bigelow has been keeping herself, very much, under the radar since her break out hit way back in 1991, Point Break. Since then her catalogue of releases have been modest at best ranging from the under rated and practically unnoticed Strange Days to the high budget and rather mediocre, Cold War thriller, K-19: The Widow Maker. After treading the film making wilderness for many years she finally returns to the spotlight with her latest film The Hurt Locker, set against the very current affair backdrop of the second Iraq war. The film itself centres primarily around three soldiers in one of the U.S. Army's bomb disposal units as they near completion of their year's duty of the region charting the trials and tribulations that face them on a day-to-day basis.

From the film's opening moments the audience is swept into a world that very few would ever wish to experience hands on, as the characters deal with the most uncompromisingly tense situations ranging from the standard bomb diffusing exercise, to physically trying to remove a bomb strapped to a suicide bomber. While the action itself I felt was sparingly used to a much more potent effect, the film excelled leaps and bounds compared to its contemporaries, in building up that terrifyingly uneasy tension before all hell eventually broke loose. This comes across amazingly well through the performances of Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackle and Brian Geraghty, demonstrating a vast array of emotions, though not entirely sympathetic characters initially, I came to accept them for the flawed human beings they were and because of this The Hurt Locker stands a testimony to what these people go through every single day while on the front lines. Though physically tested, their mental health is driven to the brink with every single situation they are faced in the film, this was very much evident any time they were out in the field, and their paranoia is heighten immensely when seemingly every single Iraqi citizen in the immediate area must always be treated as a suspected bomber whether it is a full grown man, woman or child.

Furthermore Bigelow demonstrates the U.S military attitude to the Iraqi people, with a sly dig at the handling of the entire invasion (invasion? Did I say that...I meant "operation"), where the soldiers themselves are very negative towards the people they are trying to "save", thus distancing themselves in the process. This is signified when one of the main characters describes that they have changed the title of the whole mission from "Operation: Liberty" to "Operation: Victory" (oh dear). Though fascinating from beginning to end, I thought the story could have been more engaging than it was, coming across as slightly dull at times, almost like watching another tiresome Sky One documentary in the Middle East, next to the frantic and captivating intensity of the situations and characters put before the audience. The production values on the other hand were completely faultless however, with the cinematography from Barry Ackroyd setting you straight into the action making each scene more overwhelming than the last, similar in many ways to his previous work on The Wind That Shakes The Barley. Another stand out for me was the score from Marco Beltrami which was sparse but slowly built up the alarming intensity of the action scenes when the scenes notched up into overdrive. What might make The Hurt Locker stand apart from similar films is in the story's more tender and philosophical moments, describing in the movie's opening quote that war is "like a drug" and then in the final act William (Jeremy Renner) realising upon returning home to his beautiful wife and baby son, that civilian life is both dull, depressing and uneventful and that the only way to live again is to be dancing on the edge of sanity in the urban jungle of Iraq once more, which I personally thought was quite evocative and realistic. Makes one ask the question of, what place do men of war have amongst the sanctuary of civilisation?

Final Thoughts
Having virtually no preconceptions of what to expect from The Hurt Locker upon sitting down to watch it, other than I thought it was going another salute to the ego of the armed forces serving in the region, I admit I was pleasantly surprised. Intense, gritty and at times overwhelming, it sets the audience at the front line of the action, which is not necessarily, all guns blazing, taking the characters to the brink each time they perform a task for their superiors. Though it stumbles from a rather incoherent plot and portrayed more as a series of events, its injection of genuine suspense and harsh realism, is what drives the film forward and what makes it stand out next to every other war film you have probably watched before this. Regardless of your own feelings on the farcical nature of the war in question, The Hurt Locker is an assertion of honest film making where the characters and not the backdrop are at the epicentre of what makes this completely captivating. Sought this gem out immediately my friends, as it could be one of the best films you will see all year.


The Hurt Locker is meant to be in cinemas from the 28th August but with the U.K's distribution, who the hell knows any more....

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