As the American presence in the Middle East continues, the toll begins to show on both political and personal grounds. It’s the latter that attention is brought to in Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar-nominated film, as troops in Baghdad face their greatest fears.
During the Bravo Company’s year-long deployment in the Iraqi capital, Sergeant JT Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Special Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) must deal with the death of team leader Senior Sergeant Matt Thompson (Guy Pearce). When replacement SSG William James (Jeremy Renner) arrives, they are tested mentally and physically as he pushes them into reckless situations that nearly cost them their lives. Diffusing bombs and settling bomb threats are the crux of their duty, and with their job being one of the most suspenseful, it sets the film up for an intriguing journey.
Bigelow reveals the irony many American soldiers face – the countdown until the end of their deployment always remains at the forefront of their minds, but the uncertainty that faces them on their return home lingers (and often keeps them abroad). The opening words shown on the screen (that ‘war is a drug’) remain with you for the film’s entirety as the adrenaline rush of the group’s work both scares and excites James. It’s he who becomes the centrepiece of the film after his delayed entrance; we’re allowed into his world slowly as Bigelow reveals that between the displays of masculine prowess from his ‘macho’ exterior there’s something about a normal life that he doesn’t understand. The hardest decision for him comes at the film’s end in a surprisingly laughable moment where Bigelow hints at the lack of good consumer choices in the States.
The Hurt Locker may focus on seemingly prominent events during their time in Baghdad, but doesn’t overdo the constant explosions. It is a ‘man’s man’ film, but there’s a lot to like about the un-stylised action. It’s more about the tension, which really stands out with the fear of a sudden end. It has a similar eeriness to Apocalypse Now in regards to the human psyche, as we see Eldridge struggle emotionally after Thompson’s death and Sanborn become unsure of his own abilities. They’re the original team, but that means little in the grand scheme of war as it becomes just as much about every man for himself. For James, the innocent civilians become a focus and highlight to us that there are always people hurt in conflict. This knowledge comes to haunt him as the story plays out and affects you watching just the same.
All the performances are noteworthy, particularly Renner as James, who’s everything from a hard-arse to a scared being, and a rough cameo from Ralph Fiennes.
It’s a slow-burning story as their endurance is tested, with gritty cinematography getting up-close-and-personal with these men. The use of slo-mo shots highlighting the impact of an explosion again puts you right in there. They’re used well to make viewers see that a moment may seem like a lifetime but the impact is instant; a truly haunting feeling. It’s a film that surprises in its hard-hitting reality, with a documentary feel grasping the portrayal of war with and showing a gripping account of what soldiers are signing up for.
The Hurt Locker gives nothing away on the surface but what’s underneath is extremely intriguing. The suspense may just kill you.
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