The Hurt Locker Review

Posted: December 1, 2009 in Review
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The Hurt Locker Review

‘War is a drug’, proclaims the opening text to Kathryn Bigelow’s tribute to the bomb disposing squads roaming Baghdad. That’s the theme behind this utterly astonishing salute to the men and women risking their lives for reasons even they don’t rightly know. Make no mistake, this film is not jaw-dropping – The Hurt Locker rips your mouth off its hinge and goes bungee jumping with it.

When their previous team leader is killed by a roadside bomb, Sergeant Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) are assigned a new bomb disposal tech, Staff Sergeant James (Jeremy Renner). However, when he turns out to be an arrogant, hot-headed thrill-seeker, they begin to worry if they will live the remaining thirty nine days they have until they can go back home.

It’s a staggering view of a world a million miles away from anything the audience could ever understand, of a war so far removed from what text books or personal stories from battles gone by could ever hope to convey that it is at first disorienting and almost jarring. After all, this is a war movie where the war is secondary to the characters, a war movie which dares not to make any impositions on the viewers’ own beliefs on whether or not the war is even right. When the dust settles, this is a story of three humans trapped in a hellish scenario even they don’t quite understand.

It’s a tale of a war where the colonels don’t know what truly happens on the battlefield, where a split decision to kill or not can alter the course of one man’s life, where a group of civilians will happily shake your hand while laying a bomb beside you. It’s a story that dares to get inside the heads of the soldiers out there right now and try to find out why they are where they are.

General sweeping praise aside, each of the three protagonists is masterfully written and beautifully acted, a portrayal of somewhat civilized men so surrounded by chaos that the only real way to let off steam is to get drunk and punch each other. Scriptwriter Mark Boal, who stuck with a real disposal squad on the front lines, has done an absolutely tremendous job in reliving that particular hell, while director Kathryn Bigelow has produced visuals and nerve-shredding tension nothing short of mind-blowing. When you don’t know if a man is waving at you or relaying a signal to someone behind you, you know you’re in a different kind of hell.

The pulse-pounding sequences come on thick and fast, as relentlessly as the realities are bombarding troops right now. Each mission is different to the one before, each bomb somehow worse and more horrific than the previous, each set-piece as unnerving as actually being shot at. Whether it’s watching a man pull up multitudes of improvised explosives at his own feet, hearing the cries of a man forced into an explosive vest or an absolutely superb sniper battle across a desert wasteland, this is one film that will stay with you long after the credits roll.

No matter what your opinion is of the war or where you stand on the people fighting it, you have to – no, you need to – see this film. It won’t change your mind, but it will rock your world and open your eyes. This is not a war you can study; this is war as a spectator sport, a battle for ratings in a world that doesn’t want the grizzly details. Harrowing, startling, eye-opening, terrifying, intense, tear-jerking, jaw-dropping and utterly unforgettable.

5 stars


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