REVIEW: The Hurt Locker

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THE HURT LOCKER
131 Minutes // USA // First Light Production
dir. Kathryn Bigelow
Wednesday, September 10th, 2008 – Ryerson (originally)
starring: Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie + Brian Geraghty

I saw this film previously at last years Toronto International Film Festival – I was mislead by the cast heading (Ralph Fiennes, Guy Pearce and David Morse) as well as being misled in various other aspects. Having been exhausted from 7 days earlier and a Midnight Madness screening the evening before, I was disappointed with the lack of the “stars” and was completely zoned out of the screening – this led me to give the film a 4 and another chance to impress. This time around, I was much more interested in the story at hand and picked up much more on the story at hand. Here’s my review:

The Hurt Locker is director Kathryn Bigelow’s first feature film since 2002’s K-19: The Widowmaker – a fellow thriller that bases itself around a wartime scenario. Unlike K-19, The Hurt Locker takes place in American occupied Baghdad in 2004 and is effective in its story telling. With Mark Boal – a political writer with In the Valley of Elah as his only other credit – scripting the film, The Hurt Locker had many variables going against it for the masses. Surprisingly, it has become the biggest critical success all year; even out doing Pixar’s latest.

For a film that runs for over two hours it is brilliant in pacing. Keeping the suspense at a high for the majority of the film and cutting scenes with intelligence, Bigelow’s intention of giving the viewer a crash course in unhinged comradery, disturbed minds and suppressed dreams surpasses your typical “shoot ’em up and be afraid” recent war films.

The story is about three men – Staff Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner) , Sergeant JT Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) – who head Bravo Company, or at least their section. Per usual, they aren’t completely different men, but their similarities are minimal. Each have their distinct personality and views of life, but none more so than James who is a bold and fearless (see: reckless) leader of the trio. His antics on and off the field are antagonizing and his personality is truculent.

It soon becomes apparent that Sergeant James is a self-serving man that only has one passion in life: war. His errant behavior is cause for anger and anxiety to course through Sanborn and Eldridge to the point of fiery hatred and emotional breakdowns.

None of the characters are men you can admire, rather you’re meant to be placed in their shoes and see yourself in your most primal state. Each of the three main characters has an aspect about them that is worrying and selfish. Whether it be James’ self-serving search for a bigger adrenaline fix, not caring for the lives of his company; Sanborn’s wanting to “do something about” James’ attitude… even if it means murder; or Eldridge’s subtle, but slimy selfishness, it is easy to see yourself as one of these men considering the circumstances. And because of these variables, the one sense of security that you’d hope to find in a film like this is ripped from beneath your feet.

The symbolism is sparse. There are only two notable instances: the first would be the sound of an airplane ripping through the skies above just before a violent spurt is about to occur (this is probably done for nothing more than an added jolt to the viewers senses) – the other would be a small and apparently unimportant scene with Owen Eldridge as he’s waiting to talk to an on-site councilor. During this small scene he is found playing Gears of War – a very violent video game. This meant two things to me; the first being that perhaps he (and most other soldiers) are desensitized to violence to the point of finding no line between the two – the second being the fact that he was using the auto-aim feature. For a man who deals with weapons in his profession, it seems very unusual to have to use an auto-aim feature in a shooting game. Perhaps he (and again, like most other soldiers) aren’t trained to a high standard which would be alarming. Anyways, that’s what I saw beneath the verbose front.

Clearly shot this way in vain of Mark Boal’s journalistic gathering for the script, the primary use of handheld photography allows anyone and everyone to fall into a violent and frantic trance, akin to the trio you follow. For several reasons (including the one I just mentioned) the cinematography is, at the very least, compelling. The rare glimpses of beautiful and harmonious landscape colliding violently with the setting sun reiterates the almost hypnotic core of being witness to violence at every corner – no matter how misleading the front may be.

So far in my review you’re probably thinking “Wow, he must think this is a flawless film”, but (unfortunately) it isn’t. Every so often, the film takes itself too seriously in overwrought and already defined aspects in and of the Iraq War. Like a comedy that is repetitive, this is the main cause for no prolonged enjoyment or intelligence. There are generic traps that the film falls into as well, but they exploit the traps to a point where it’s actually original, so I’m not too sure about how I feel about it. For one, I love when films push envelopes, but then again, if the envelope is manila who cares? Anyways, apart from that, some scenes being unappealing aesthetically and the perspective hopping being gratuitous during the most frantic scenes (yes, I get what Bigelow is trying to do, but it’s more bothersome than pleasantly symbolic) this is an excellent film.

Providing admirable support to the film are the bigger names that the film has to offer. Ralph Fiennes does some great minor work as a South African war criminal who briefly befriends the three men in Bravo Company when they cross paths in the middle of nowhere. David Morse is intense in his minor role that is basically used as a tool to show how cruel some men in war can be as Colonel Reed – basically just a man that loves America and hates anyone who isn’t American. Finally, we get Guy Pearce in a very, very small role at the beginning as the first leader of Bravo Company – his part with Sanborn and Eldridge gives an interesting, yet too brief expose of men happy at war; used fairly well in contrast to what comes later on, but as I said, is too brief to really get much of a grasp of anything substantial.

Speaking in terms of performances, the three main actors in Renner, Mackie and Geraghty are very humbled and realistic portrayals. Their seething chemistry is as efficient as the film is gritty which is cause for a very harrowing and disheartening product.

The title The Hurt Locker can simply be boiled down to one meaning. That although all the soldiers that look the same and appear to act the same, beneath all of the single coat of solidarity is a pain like no other. Whether it be missing your family at home, missing the simplicity of a regular life or missing the family you never got the chance to start… everyone hurts. War is the manufacturers of these lockers – both the exterior design and the interior pain.

In the end, this film is simply a notch above the rest. In terms of the decade, there have only been a handful of films that compare to the masculinity and fervor that exudes from every minute of The Hurt Locker… and each of them have been Oscar nominated (Letters from Iwo Jima, Days of Glory & Flags of Our Fathers – each 2006 films). With a sorrowful and unpleasant conclusion, The Hurt Locker follows the trend of films that speak volumes about the casualties of war – but unlike the rest, the casualty in this is a man’s love for life.

The film opens on a quote that says “War is a drug” and in the end it successfully explains invariably how as well as plottily prosing why Sergeant James is – and always will be – an addict. [8/10]

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