Greeted with the opening message “war is a drug”, The Hurt Locker attempts to delve deeper into a soldier’s psyche that most films that come before it. The film tails a three man bomb squad on the streets of Iraq joined by a new, reckless team member, Staff Sergeant William James (Renner), after their long term technician is killed on the front line. For the remainder of the film The Hurt Locker counts down the team’s days in rotation, one step behind as they’re thrown into increasingly dangerous and impossible to read situations.
Despite the jumping narrative, The Hurt Locker is developed perfectly and doesn’t feel at all disjointed. The dramatic sequences are hugely powerful and it really felt like you were the fourth member of the team as the bomb squad head out each day. Such is director Kathryn Bigelow’s attention to detail, you could be forgiven for thinking this was a documentary, such is the intensity and realism.
Not only the best film set in the Iraq war, The Hurt Locker is one of the very best war films in the last decade and beyond. The film is as much about the soldiers being at work as it is about the war and conflict in Iraq, and successfully portrays the trials of soldiers you never normally see in war films. The Hurt Locker doesn’t rely on flashy gunfights to create excitement, instead Bigelow uses long cuts and stunning framing shots to get across the atmosphere, power and suspense of each situation.
Despite the intense personal nature and deep character development, it might take a couple of views to really tease the film’s messages out of the plot but this is only really a minor problem comes from the sheer depth of The Hurt Locker. The film has a lot to say about war and the adrenaline rush of being on the front line before delving into the lives of the bomb squad and the costs of heroism and irreparable psychological damage it can cause. Further to The Hurt Locker’s credit are the performances from the three leading men, in particular Jeremy Renner as the unflinching new bomb defusal expert. Renner gives a vastly powerful and visceral performance, so raw on the surface but driven by a deep mysterious personality.
One of the few must watches of the year so far, and certainly one of the most intelligent offerings, The Hurt Locker would likely already be boasting a masterpiece label had it been from a high profile director or studio. As it is with the relatively unknown Bigelow behind The Hurt Locker and a tiered release across America, it may take some time for the film to get the acknowledgement it deserves.