The Hurt Locker Kathryn Bigelow

The Hurt Locker Kathryn Bigelow
Taking a break at about the halfway mark of director Kathryn Bigelow's Iraq war drama, The Hurt Locker, I realized my jaw was sore. I had been unconsciously clenching it from the first moment of The Hurt Locker, which chronicles a three-man team of explosives ordinance disposal (bomb squad) soldiers tasked with dealing with the rash of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) employed in this Middle Eastern war. Honed in on the tiniest details of both the squad and this most dangerous job, Bigelow gives us a familiar and yet entirely unusual look at life during wartime, which ― as an opening quote points out ― can be addictive for its participants. Sergeant James (Jeremy Renner) is one such adrenaline junkie, making up his own rules for a conflict unlike traditional warfare; his brashness rubs up against his teammates, but his effectiveness makes him helpful, while his fearlessness makes him priceless. We learn very little about James and his cohorts ― Bigelow is allergic to confessional scenes featuring crinkled photographs and wistful tales of life back home. There is no "back home" when death stares you in the face, whether it's a carload of explosives or the cold eye of a video camera in the hands of an Iraqi population that could be innocents or insurgents. But removing all the "stuff" that clutters war movies with gooey sentimentality, Bigelow has made one of the rawest and most combat-intimate war movies ever. The heart of that tale comes from screenwriter Mark Boal, a journalist turned screenwriter who based this on his experiences embedded with a bomb squad in Iraq in 2004, when The Hurt Locker is set. It's informed by that insane first-hand knowledge but also by Boal's interviews with soldiers eager to point out exactly what Hollywood gets wrong. (Explosions are too orange and not dusty enough; Bigelow's explosions, which lift pebbles off the street with their force, are remarkably fresh and realistic-seeming.) Boal and Bigelow flesh out much of this back-story, adding details about shooting in Jordan instead of Morocco, and how heat and dust impacted the realism of their work. (Similar themes are explored in a competent making-of.) In the end, The Hurt Locker pulls an interesting trick on its viewer. In the face of Oscar buzz and buckets of critical acclaim, it's easy to dismiss it early on: "this isn't that good." Then you realize that your jaw hurts, your shoulders are sore and you might not have taken a breath for a few minutes, waiting while an on-screen IED is safely disarmed. Then you realize that maybe Kathryn Bigelow is more plugged in to your experience than you initially thought. The Hurt Locker, by stripping away conventions of storytelling and unnecessary character tics, leaves you with a pure, adrenalized filmmaking experience. Plus: image gallery. (Maple)