Review: The Hurt Locker [2009] - dir. Kathryn Bigelow

It's been too many years since we last saw the words "Directed by Kathryn Bigelow", and I'm ecstatic to say they make a more than desirable homecoming with The Hurt Locker. Based on a script by Mark Boal, a former journalist who was assigned to a bomb squad in postwar Iraq, the consequent tale revolves around Jeremy Renner as Will James, a cavalier bomb disposal technician who seems to have an indubitable rogue streak fused to a terminal death wish, much to the consternation of his time weary comrades Sandborne (Anthony Mackie) and Eldritch (Brian Geraghty).

While you'd envisage the prodigious names, Guy Pearce and Ralph Fiennes to win the plum roles, here they end up being either mere casualties and minimal figures, albeit in the case of Fiennes, adding notable gravitas to the proceedings via an exemplary performance. But Bigelow ensures that the fresh stars blaze even brighter, Renner gives a ferocious performance that encapsulates the physical and emotional instability that can come with being a "full spectrum warrior" in the thick of it. Equally notable is Mackie, whose J.T. radiates cogency, pathos and a world-weariness well beyond his years.

Although Bigelow stays pretty much honest to the war film template she triumphantly abstains from expansive combat scenes and instead opts for scenes of gripping tension, very much echoing the kind of hostilities soldiers realistically confront in contemporaneous theatres. Survival often appears to be obfuscated for the protagonists by the discernible psychological toll of the conventional stresses of modern combat. Having said that, The Hurt Locker owes a pretty comprehensive debt to both Malick's poetic The Thin Red Line and Kubrick's intense Full Metal Jacket. Yet whereas the former stressed a unit's sense of consanguinity, Bigelow comes down more readily on the side of the latter's singularity of emotion.

The intensity is in direct correlation to the fact that Bigelow ascribes the audience no time to reflect empowering her to place us into the very disposition that factual IED hunting teams undergo on a daily basis. Add to the urgency of bomb defusing, a firefight out in the middle of nowhere, between the team, several British Special Forces and an enclave of insurgent snipers, and you find yourself on the edge of your seat for the majority of the running time of the movie.

The Hurt Locker is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the foremost war movies of the last decade, and by far one of the loftiest movies of 2009. Even though you may be indisposed towards the current spate of Middle East war movies, I warrant you haven't experienced anything like this. This is not a movie about conflict as much as a movie about the abstruseness of human nature, and the acuity of some people to overcome all odds in situations the majority of us would never wish to be in.

Welcome home Kathryn, it has been a long wait but it's good to have you back...


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