The Hurt Locker

Kathryn Bigelow

BY Katarina GligorijevicPublished Jul 10, 2009

The opening sequence in Kathryn Bigelow's latest is one of the most suspenseful action sequences of the year. Gorgeously shot, with an almost sexual attention to detail, Bigelow artfully depicts a moment in the life of a bomb squad in war torn Iraq. Watching the team leader don a protective suit in order to diffuse a rocket found in some garbage on a dusty street is a brilliantly executed nail biter of a scene.

What follows is perhaps the year's most thoughtful and insightful study of what it's truly like to be a front line soldier in a modern war such as Iraq, and also a terrific action movie. Bigelow follows the elite bomb squad during a couple of months of active duty, as sensible and stern ex-Intelligence officer JT Sanborn clashes with his new Staff Sergeant, adrenaline junkie William James. The addition of totally reckless new team leader James puts the team in danger just a couple of months before their tour of duty is over. James is smart, young and has a family back home but he's drawn to the thrill of war in a way he can't explain to himself or his team-mates.

The situations these men are in are tense and terrifying, and the way they blow off steam in their free time (usually by getting drunk and punching each other in the gut) is as heart wrenching as it is funny. By remaining contained in this microcosm, The Hurt Locker delivers unflinching realism, dark humour and some astonishing performances from the leads (and neat cameos from Guy Pierce and Ralph Fiennes). But most of all, it paints a portrait of the horrors of war that never descends into political grandstanding or maudlin moralizing.

And perhaps even more importantly, The Hurt Locker packs a solid action punch. Bigelow favours tension and suspense over gratuitous explosions but those are delivered judiciously as well, and the balance makes for a genuinely enjoyable film that also makes you feel like you've been put through the wringer.

A surprisingly even-handed and thought provoking film about the Iraq war, The Hurt Locker manages to make a strong political impression without being all about making one. (Maple)

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