Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Cast: Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie
Politics aside, the invasion of Iraq has provoked interesting responses from cinema. Kathryn Bigelow’s hard-hitting handheld tale of a bomb disposal unit is no exception, examining a soldier’s psyche with a macho honesty. Unlike Paul Haggis’ In the Valley of Elah, this is less of a why-dunnit and more of a “why do it?” The answer is simple: adrenaline.
Sergeant James (Renner) is a bomb specialist, trained to defuse devices in difficult conditions. Assigned to Bravo Company, he finds himself fighting alongside Sergeant Sandown (Mackie), a man who hates his heroics with a passion. Amidst the conflict, their antagonistic chemistry keeps tensions high, running rifts through the group, unsettling the already unsettled soldier Elrdrige (Brian Geraghty).
Trapped in a cycle of emergency call-outs, Bravo Company are prisoners of the war, following orders with a fatalistic fear. Every moment someone may die or get blown up. Even when Raiph Fiennes and Guy Pearce turn up for their cameos, there’s no guarantee they’ll make it. As a result, each set piece is shot through with stress – in particular, a wonderful shoot-out with a sniper’s shed. Wiping down the bloodstained bullets which are jamming the gun, the terror skyrockets. Searching down the scope for the out-of-sight enemy, they’re sitting ducks, with nothing to do but slurp down Capri-Suns and count each slow, painful second.
Filmed up-close with immersive handicams, Bigelow’s war is dynamic but never bewildering; the action is expertly choreographed so we never lose sight of what's going on. As the troops move out to another area, there’s an enormous sense of excitement – this is more edge-of-your-seat action than your average blockbuster. And every frame is utterly unflinching. The cast barely speak more than a few words in between bomb sites and brawling in the barracks. But without lengthy exposition or cheesy speeches, Bigelow draws out a subtle drama from each of her actors, creating an engaging, character-driven conflict.
Faced with the death of a young local boy, James begins to break down. Sorting through bomb parts under his bed, he relives each memento with morbid appreciation. Even when he’s with his wife and child, he thinks on the thrill of cutting the right wire – the rush of war. It’s a drug, for which he’s lost his life. As he explains to his daughter: “As you get older, you love one or two things. In my case, maybe just one.” Shocking as the bloodshed may be, it’s easy to feel the same way.
A provocative and thrilling exploration of why men wage war. The Hurt Locker is forceful, full-on, explosive stuff.