The road to victory for The Hurt Locker was slow and steady. The film began screening in 2008, and got a huge Variety pan when it played the Venice film festival. When it opened in the summer of 2009, the reviews were much warmer, and by the end of the year it was a list topper. Now it’s in real contention for Best Picture, Writer and Director at the Oscars, even though it did very little business stateside. The story of a crew of a bomb squad when a new guy (Jeremy Renner) seems crazed to his new staff (Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty), it is the first film about Iraq that has crossed over, and home video will get it in front of way more people, especially with all this late-coming buzz. My review of The Hurt Locker after the jump.
The film opens with Sgt. JT Sanborn (Mackie) and Spc. Owen Eldrige (Geraghty) losing their former bomb disposal expert, only to have him replaced by SFC William James (Renner). James begins his relationship with the men by showing a cavalier attitude towards their situation and not listening to his men. But as they continue to work together, they see a man who is keyed up to what he’s doing, but takes more chances than men about to walk from their tour of duty feel comfortable with. James seems a bit of a head case as he likes to listen to hard music, smokes all the time, and has a collection of the diffused bits from his travails, and the men even contemplate some friendly fire. But when they’re on a stakeout where they’ve got to take out some snipers, they somewhat relax into him. But James aggravates them further when his hunt for people who killed a young boy gets them in trouble.
With all this late stage praise, there was to be a backlash, and I’ve seen some bristle at the film’s attention. Though the film is excellent, it is also fair to say that it is just an action film in a war milieu. The problem is that most action films are so junked up on special effects, that rarely do you get to see a sustained bit of action tension, and director Kathryn Bigelow directs the shit out of this movie. Every set piece is a stunner, and for the first time in a long time for a war movie the language she uses to tell the story doesn’t seemed cribbed from either Steven Spielberg or Ridley Scott. The money shot of the film became the poster image, but if it wasn’t spoiled for you, it’s a hell of a moment, where a bad situation gets infinitely worse. It also works symbolically for the situation in Iraq without the film ever beating you over the head with it. And that’s one of the great strengths of the film, while also seeming to have a practical understanding of the job and the situation at hand. There’s a great verisimilitude here.
It also shows in the denouement (one of the best endings of any film this year), what happens to men who become adrenaline junkies, and how their fate ultimately becomes decided by being unable to go back to a normal life. Bigelow keeps the film moving, with interesting characters that are defined by their actions, and also peppers the film with cameos (Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes, David Morse and Evangeline Lily) to remind you that you are watching a war film. That’s smart, but it also keeps you off balance as some of the cameos end abruptly, keeping the main characters (all played by actors not known for much more than supporting work) in jeopardy, because if the famous people can die, than a character actor might not have much chance.
I thought The Hurt Locker was one of the best films of the year for this; it’s strange to think this isn’t a mainstream entertainment, but this may have been the failure of marketing, as the film was wounded by that early screening. That may have helped the film in the long run. Cause this is one for the ages.
Summit’s DVD presents the film in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) and in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround. The transfer is solid, as to be expected. Extras include a commentary by Bigelow and screenwriter/producer Mark Boal, a short making of (13 min.) and an image gallery. Perhaps if the film cleans up at the Oscars, we might see a double dip with a longer behind the scenes piece. I would celebrate that.