Rental Review – The Hurt Locker

The Hurt Locker may be a beautifully shot film, but it is far from the perfection I was expecting after all the hype it has been drenched in, especially post Oscars.

To sum it up, I think the best way to describe the movie is to compare it to the subject matter of the film, bombs (this seems like a really great and creative idea at 4 AM, so I’m just gonna go with it and see how it pans out).

Defuse Attempt: The Hurt Locker follows a team of three Army bomb squad members who are brought in to keep the ridiculous amount of bombs found in and around the streets of Iraq from exploding.  These scenes may not be as crazy and up-tempo as the bomb defusing scenes of the MacGruber SNL skits, but honestly the best scenes in the entirety of the film are those spent simply waiting.  The passage of time is marked with a countdown of days left until these men are home free, but its presence is more foreboding than it is hopeful.  As time slowly passes in the day to day and Staff Sergeant William James is met with a surprising amount of new and different bomb set ups, there is so much tension in the waiting because though you tell yourself there is no way they are going to blow up a bomb in someone’s face early on in the game you have to remember that this is war and casualties happen in the blink of the eye.  The tension becomes palpable, and you begin to think that maybe today will be the day that Specialist Owen Eldridge dies because that wide-eyed innocence never works out well for the one wearing it in this sort of film, right?

The (Sometimes Unavoidable) Explosion: The one downfall to the film is that for every faster paced action sequence that added some relief from the long, tension filled stretches of film, there are just as many faster paced scenes that are completely unnecessary.  Which brings us to:

The Aftermath: Remember that scene towards the end of Saving Private Ryan where there is an explosion followed by a surreal moment of confusion, slower processing and functioning on the parts of the characters, and that annoying ringing noise?  Well, a lot of this film is like that and loses its footing from time to time.  The story is slightly episodic in the way that it jumps from bomb to bomb, with only the countdown of days giving this film a goal to work towards because there really is no path to the story, it’s just a series of events along a timeline.  There is nothing wrong with a fragmented structure like this because this film is about the experience if anything else, but then random scenes are thrown in to make the movie more cinematic with an overarching story that just doesn’t seem to belong (such as a scene in the second half that seems more fitting to the Bourne series than this), causing more confusion than clarity.

And then there is Staff Sergeant James.  There is no question that this man goes through as many bombs as he does cigarettes, and it has become his addiction.  He is a reckless soldier who waves his bravado around like a flag for all to see, and I just don’t understand him.  Don’t get me wrong, Jeremy Renner deserves all the praise he is given for his portrayal of this role, but I just can’t figure him out.  The majority of the time he can be kind of a d-bag, but then he will do something that fleshes his character out a little more and works as a reminder that he is actually human, but when all is said and done his character is more enigmatic than ever and I can never quite figure out why he is the way he is or if he even cares about saving lives.  Maybe he has something to prove, or he’s running from something, or maybe it’s just a strong sense of duty, but as he does things that seem to be out of character for him and those unnecessary scenes come back into play I start to wonder if many I am just trying to tack on a meaning to the man that isn’t actually there.

Okay, enough with the bomb comparison.  Though the story and Renner’s character leave more to be desired on my part, it is impossible not to notice how great this film looks.  It is shot with a rockier style thanks to the cameras mobility, adding an even greater sense of urgency to what is playing out on screen.  And then there is the environment, which seems always more than willing to make its presence known.  Each shot is drenched in reminders of just how horrible this world really is.  If it isn’t the bombs that will drive one insane then the heat seeping from the color palate on screen, or the sweat dripping down the brows of the actors, the swarms of flies adding some of the only movement to numerous shots, and the sand (man is that a lot off sand) caking on to their faces is enough to make anyone uncomfortable.

The Hurt Locker finds its strength in its ability to amplify the tension and sense of danger in the job that these soldiers perform, but unfortunately it is weakened by the way it goes about trying to be more than just a simple story about an adrenaline junkie performing one of the most dangerous jobs out there.  This is not to say that it doesn’t deserve the attention it is getting, and many of the awards it has won are well deserved (including Kathryn Bigelow for Directing and the awards for Sound Editing and Mixing at the Oscars), but the problems in the story, character, and the last ten minutes of the film keep me from seeing this as the “Best Picture” of the year.

Final Grade: B-