The Hurt Locker Review

An immediate tension grips The Hurt Locker, ahead of the curve in how thrillers hope to understand modern warfare. Fast cuts, grainy footage and a close-up piece of the action clutch the heart and eyes of the audience who can do nothing but watch a humanitarian crisis. Director Kathryn Bigelow is good at that, and it is a necessary factor for The Hurt Locker, possibly its most important. The false alarms, the second glances and split-second decision-making are at the core of an extremely tense and nervy feature that hopes to hold out against a barrage of modern filmmakers trying to have their say on prevalent American warfare.

To do so, it is obvious a director must stand out. From Black Hawk Down to Zero Dark Thirty, the turn of the century offered just about anyone with a camera the chance to talk about or of warfare in the Middle East. The Hurt Locker takes a slightly different avenue. Still talking the talk and walking the walk of warfare, invasion and camaraderie, Bigelow manoeuvres her camera in the form of a fly on the wall. A documentary-like approach may not seem as grand and fascinating an angle to take when documentaries exist, but it feels like a breath of fresh air and catharsis for those who want to feel the grief and shame these features can bring without actually catching onto the real horror stories that may turn the stomach of those with little leniency for shock and awe filmmaking.

Jeremy Renner portrays a soldier touched by warfare in a far different way to the patriotic slop of Clint Eastwood or the courtroom dramas of doing the right thing found in A Few Good Men. Bigelow and Renner by extension to that are observing a sense of placement and friendship, a love for adrenalin and a keen desire to serve themselves and, by extension, their country. Renner’s work as leading man William James works not just because of his fine performance, but because of the brief scenes Guy Pearce offers at the start. Audiences know what can happen in the work of a bomb disposal unit and the dangers of it, but actually seeing it in motion creates an entirely different experience. What it creates is a feeling of animosity, of anxiety, for James. Even if he is the leading character, there’s always a chance he could meet his end. Bigelow manages that with sincerity and desperately great camerawork that makes it impossible to look away.

But The Hurt Locker needs to be more than that tension. How can audiences stick with the slower moments that build up these characters? For all the superb work Renner, Pearce and Anthony Mackie put into this feature, their failure to make their characters more interesting than their parts is a sad shame. They are soldiers and portrayed as such. Brave men and women who are disposing of bombs and risking their lives. That much is clear. But there is never a sense of who they are. Why it matters is obvious, what Bigelow is saying chimes in with all the rest of it. Making a mark through its tension rather than its message is a solid angle, but The Hurt Locker leaves a lot to be desired of its cast and their exploration of their roles despite their excellent abilities at conducting the right emotions in the right places.

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