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Taylor Taglianetti

Saint Saviour High School, Junior

REVIEW | The Hurt Locker (2008) directed by Kathryn Bigelow

When asked by The New Yorker what the title The Hurt Locker means, screenwriter Mark Boal explained, "If a bomb goes off, you're going to be in the hurt locker. That's how they used it in Baghdad. It means slightly different things to different people, but all the definitions point to the same idea. It's somewhere you don't want to be." Ironically, the film concludes with the central character, Staff Sergeant William James, reenlisting in the Iraq War as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal specialist. After viewing The Hurt Locker, there is no question in the matter: Sergeant James has the most perilous job anyone can possess.

Danger is at its peak when we are teased with cameos from Guy Pearce and Ralph Fiennes. They don’t have Brad Pitt star power, but we definitely know them from our movie memory. In the thick of things, they provide feelings of security. And then suddenly, their characters become casualties. Thus, a trio of bomb specialists becomes our definitive guide, James reigning as the alpha male. Safety is not one of his virtues. Take for example the scene where he takes off his bomb suit and headset in the midst of disarming his 873rd bomb. His various adrenaline-fueled acts infuriate the team. Sergeant JT Sanborn, who strictly adheres to rules, briefly considers killing James. Furthermore, after James orders a mission not suited for a team of three and accidently shoots specialist Owen Eldridge, it’s clear that he, too, feels bitter animosity toward James.

The Hurt Locker, Jeremy Renner

The audience is confronted with scenes that run the gamut from gripping to boring. In one scene, James must disarm a bomb planted in the body of who he thinks is a young Iraqi boy who sold him pirated movies. Then there are scenes that take long, deep breaths. By embracing scenes of this sort, our picture of war becomes more vivid. There’s a scene where the men exchange photos of family, smoke cigarettes, and just talk. You might find yourself fidgeting in your seat over the tediousness, but for soldiers, these moments are as real as disarming a bomb. After all, one of Kathryn Bigelow’s intentions was to give a highly realistic depiction of war life. Boring is vital.

Many cinematic techniques heighten our viewing. The average shot length for The Hurt Locker is 2.7 seconds. That’s just a few tenths of a second behind the Transformers movies. Early on in the film, many of the short shots and quick zoom ins/outs create tension and panic, and leave us sick with apprehension. Adding to the chaos, much of the film appears to be shot handheld. At other times, the camera is placed so that it does not move at all. These shots are the longest, and some of the most significant. The camera rests on a tripod in an early scene of a bomb exploding. The scene is intercut with slow motion macro shots of pebbles jumping, rust from cars coming to life, and Guy Pearce’s character flailing. A shot at the end of the film places the camera on the floor of a supermarket where James, post-service, is confronted with the difficult decision of choosing which cereal to buy. This scene is also the brightest of all. James’ world changes from the drab colors of grey and green to Cheerios yellow and Lucky Charms red.

The Hurt Locker is a good film, but far from great. The movie begins with the quote, "The rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug." If you take out the meat, the beginning and the end of The Hurt Locker are the same. James' journey is an extended metaphor. Indeed, Kathryn Bigelow makes tangible the incessant danger associated with being a member of a bomb squad, but in the end, it is the only thing the film accomplished for me. The Hurt Locker is a 131 minutes of war paradigms. From the beginning, we know that James is really, really good at what he does, so good that he makes us feel that he is invincible. Our feelings are affirmed scene after scene. Even in the few moments when he evades his aura of sangfroid, he bounces back eventually. It’s easy to respect all that The Hurt Locker is, but how unexpected was it for James, the adrenaline addict, to reenlist? Shouldn’t a great movie be surprising?