The rush of battle is a potent and often lethal addiction, for war is a drug.
The Hurt Locker begins with this ‘powerful’ quote from war correspondent Chris Hedges. One could be forgiven for anticipating that the film to follow will be a glorification of war with the kind of slow-motion footage of army soldiers that Michael Bay has championed. Indeed, movie critics have even come up with a cute little (and often overused/misused) term for it – ‘war porn’.
And yet, that is precisely the sort of depiction that the movie stays away from. It isn’t an intense battle movie, like Black Hawk Down was, nor does it have any iconic dialogue. What The Hurt Locker is is a snapshot of what life is for military personnel who aren’t necessarily fighting on the frontline (bomb squad, in this case), and yet face mortal peril each day of their job.
The movie deals with the mind games involved with trying to make split second decisions on whether the guy with a cellphone is trying to detonate a bomb or how your team might be picked off by snipers in the middle of a desert. And how diffusing bombs in real life isn’t about nervously deciding to “cut the red wire or the green wire” while a clock ticks down “ten seconds to detonation”.
What really makes the movie stand out is how understated the performances are. Jeremy Renner’s performance as the maverick head of the bomb diffusal team (Staff Sergeant William James) who acts in ways others consider reckless, and yet still portraying the character as a human being who is just trying to get the job done, is stellar. The plot is very much character-driven, and it works because the characters are ones you can totally believe in. (You might remember Jeremy Renner as Sergeant Doyle from 28 Weeks Later. BTW, who else finds Rose Byrne from that movie extremely cute?)
Any film these days suffers from low self-esteem unless they make a comment about rampant commercialism in our lives – while indulging in rampant product placement of course. The film tries to juxtapose the harsh reality of life in downtown Iraq to a downtown supermarket in US of A by showing how utterly unreal it feels for a soldier to be faced with huge shelves under fluorescent lights of just cereal. And how at a trip to the supermarket his shopping cart is completely empty while his wife’s is stacked to the brim.
The tragedy is that such a brilliant movie is probably going to lose out in the Oscar race for Best Picture to a hot air balloon (read ‘Avaturd‘).
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