Films – The Hurt Locker

The Hurt Locker movie posterDespite appearances, “The Hurt Locker” is Kathryn Bigelow‘s return to familiar ground – the subject of addiction to adrenaline.

What differentiates this film from “Point Break“, however, is that where that film is a big, daft action movie, made for ease of use rather than use of brain, this one is a much more solemn and intense affair. Set in Iraq, the film follows a squad of bomb disposal experts, as they do their best to keep the streets, if not exactly danger free, at least free of planted explosives.

The film opens as tragedy hits the team, and are joined by a new team leader – Sergeant First Class William James, played by Jeremy Renner, who brings a sardonic edge to the over-confident and super-competent bomb disposal expert.

We’re trained by movies to expect certain things at this point – conflict between him and his new team as his maverick attitude puts them in danger, high-octane action set-pieces, bonding moments, and ultimately resolution as he proves himself to team-mates and audience alike.

Bigelow’s movie totally subverts everything we expect from it, almost wilfully daring the viewer to bitch about their thwarted expectations. Which is kind of mean when you consider how much her earlier work has done to create the expected modes in the first place!

What we get instead is a naturalistic, political or social agenda-free movie that follows its characters around as they do their jobs, in admittedly emotionally heightened conditions, rather than have them explain their actions.

The Hurt Locker - 2Which all sounds very worthy, put like that. At the very least, Bigelow and Mark Boal, who wrote the screenplay, should be applauded for taking such a brave stance on the movie, knowing how different it was from everything else out there.

It’s an impressive film that will demand repeated viewings, because the first impression is going to be largely one of anticipated pay-off. It looks and sounds and presents itself from the off as an action thriller, with a cold-open that establishes a sense of scale, of high production values but documentary aesthetics, and of drama, rather than the character piece it is eventually revealed as.

Even the most open-minded viewer is probably going to spend much of the film waiting for the director to break cover, as happened in “The Kingdom” – the 2007 movie whose similar setting and attempt to take a more cerebral look at the US military in the Middle East putters along smartly enough as a thriller before exploding into an action movie in the final twenty minutes.

The Hurt Locker - 1The cast are brilliant, though Renner’s performance is so impressive that it does put most of the other characters in the shade somewhat.

If there’s a problem – and I’m still torn on this – it’s that where “Point Break” desperately wants you to like it, and to like even its bad guys, “The Hurt Locker” doesn’t just not give a fuck whether you enjoy it, or like the protagonists, it makes a point of telling you so as often as possible, in the way it’s delivered. While Hollywood spoon-feeds, this film goes almost too far in the opposite direction, way past David Simon’s journalistic ideals as presented in “The Wire” and “Generation Kill”, toward totally obscured moments of character introspection that it only even hints at trying to explain in the final five minutes.

It feels like the film is trying to shake the viewer off at times, and that means it’s probably only going to find a relatively limited audience among cinematic explosion and military fetishists, or masochists like me.

Oh, btw, here’s that pivotal Point Break moment, as a particular gift to you:

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