Sunday, August 23, 2009



I finally caught a showing of the Oscar buzzed picture The Hurt Locker last week, and I must say I left the showing a little disappointed. Critics have been raving about this film since it was first released at the Venice Film Festival in 2008. This film initially was only seen exclusively at film festivals around the world until it was finally released in limited theaters across the states. With a limited release it took awhile for the film to migrate to the lowly ole Midwest, but after long await here is my review of The Hurt Locker.

Starting this review off will be a tribute to the breathtaking performance given by Evangeline Lily, star of the TV show LOST. Her 15 words in this movie set up the entire story...or wait?? 15 words? That's it? Evangeline is trying so hard to get on the big screen she would even take a role as weak as this one. At least we get to see her glorious face for 25 seconds.
The Hurt Locker stars Jeremy Renner as Staff Sgt. William James, a man who lives his life from one adrenaline rush to the next through his job as the point man on an EOD team (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) in the midst of the war in Iraq. While wearing a cumbersome protective suit, his job is to approach suspected sites where terrorists have planted make shift bombs. After getting to the possible bomb location, Jeremy has to diagnose the explosive at hand and diffuse it before it becomes a problem (if you get my drift).

James is assigned to a unit featuring Sgt. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) because the unit just lost their previous bomb diffuser to a triggered explosion. The movie develops the relationship between James, Sanborn, and Eldridge as they work to disarm bombs, protect each other on the streets, and enjoy each others company in the barracks.

The threat of an exploding bomb consumes viewers as James works to diffuse these rigged explosives before their destructive nature is unleashed. Even though James is calm for the most part, I was wrenched with anticipation for what could possibly happen next.

The script illuminates important characteristics of each of these three battlefield companions. In James' first attempt to diffuse a reported street side bomb the audience is shown his "wild card" attitude. He refuses to use the safer avenue to disarm the bomb by using a remote control robot and instead puts on the bomb suit and attacks the problem head on. This rogue attitude does not sit easy with Sanborn or Eldridge as they are constantly in peril from the drastic and dangerous decisions Staff Sgt. James makes.

While the script touches on the defining elements of each character it misses in truly diving into these soldiers heads and emotions. I felt at times I could tell what the actors were trying to convey through their characters, but other times the audience is stuck starring into a character's face with no sense of what was taking place behind the curtains of their appearance. Apathy is the feeling because I never felt for the characters because I was rarely let into their emotions. I liked the development of the characters, but the audience was not made to care for them.

The acting itself was top notch. The lead played by Renner will definitely be the defining role of his life. He had a difficult character to master playing man who is detached enough to live for disarming bombs and compassionate enough to play a fatherly role to his son and an Iraqi boy he encounters. The supporting roles were also a strength of this film which only spotlighted a handful of characters.

This film also featured some star power in the supporting roles with Hollywood regulars Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes, and David Morse. Their roles are so minor however, if you close your eyes to sneeze you may miss them.

The direction by Kathryn Bigelow (Point Break) was wonderful at times, and mediocre at others. She uses shaky camera footage to give viewers a sense of being on the front lines with these men and to instill the uncertainty and danger that this life entails. While I enjoyed this technique at times, others it became distracting from the important events taking place on the screen. She used a unique style for this story and I commend her for that.

The film featured many drawn out scenes that made the movie feel like it was dragging on forever. The Hurt Locker could have been much stronger with the application of some editing to the longer sequences (ex. the sniper scene, WAY TOO LONG). While The Hurt Locker featured a lot of intense scenes, it was also held up by doldrums of character sequences. This part of the story helped to build the characters themselves, but it was usually less significant by being too long or in some instances boring.

Another hit to this project is the inaccurate portrayal of the Army and its soldiers. I saw this film with Ray Nash, an actual soldier who has served his country overseas. Ray pointed out many flaws the film regarding the soldiers uniforms, Army protocol, and the nature of some of the action sequences.

An example is a sequence when the 3 main characters, who are part of an EOD team, enter a huge warehouse by themselves and carefully "clear" the territory room by room. Ray found this scene especially annoying because the Army has specific jobs for each person within the ranks of the military. The EOD team while capable of clearing a building, is called in to dispose of enemy bombs while infantry men are responsible for clearing buildings with possible hostiles inside. The Army would not allow such an elite unit of specialists like the EOD team act as the spearhead into that building, especially with only 3 men. Other similar scenes are littered throughout the film that make you wonder if the Army has any control over what some of these men do at all.

Could this be a hidden message that the Army is full of poor leadership? I don't think this film has a hidden agenda. The more likely case is the script was written without using credible sources to get the details correct.

The failure to fact check these minor details not only take away from the credibility of the film but it must be unnerving for all the actual soldiers to watch the unrealistic portrayal of something that is very important to them. Simply hiring a soldier to be on set to get all this information right could have prevented portions of the film from coming out sour.

Overall, The Hurt Locker is a interesting piece of cinema about a precarious position within the ranks of the military. Critics loved this film, but many movie goers will not feel the same. The film features some on the edge of your seat intensity with an interesting cast of characters to play it all out. I liked the film for the most part, but the length and some of the mentioned short comings give this project a feeling that it could have been great...but just missed. I recommend you see The Hurt Locker for its interesting point of view and to see the unconventional and unpredictable process of bomb disposal.


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