Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow
Written by: Mark Boal
Full credits at IMDb
In The Hurt Locker, an a(geo)political Iraq War nail-biter, Bigelow and Boal (a catchy name for an artistic partnership!) essentially take that old “red wire or green wire?” routine familiar from countless movie bomb-squads, and ratchets it up into an entire film by reworking it again and again into a handful of cliché-defying permutations: what if the eyes of dozens of would-be assassins are on you as you work? What if one wire leads to five other wires? What if you can’t find the wires at all? In Bigelow and Boal’s Iraq, every face peering out from a terrace or rooftop is suspect, every cell phone a potential weapon, every pedestrian a potential combatant. The characters’ justified paranoia in such a setting creates tension to spare. Toss in the tightly filmed bomb-defusing and it’s unbearable.
Within that stressful setting, the filmmakers foster a portrait of masculinity-and-its-many-faces under siege, a character study of reckless bravado; Will (Jeremy Renner), an American staff sergeant and the staff deactivator, is a fearless—he even smokes cigarettes!—John Wayne type, deromanticized; he’s portrayed as irresponsible and unstable as much as heroic. “War is a drug,” according to the title-card quote from Chris Hedges that opens the film, and the film explores the mess that is soldierhood during wartime: the allure, the guilt, the addictiveness, the death. Should the U.S. be in Iraq? Did the Bush administration lie about W.M.D.s? Yawn. Save it for the Oscar-bait. “The bottom line,” as on character says, “is, if you’re in Iraq, you’re dead.”
Bravo for Bigelow and Boal for bucking the Iraq-movie trend—for ditching the somber forced-feeling of sleeve-worn liberalism—and for sticking complicated characters into thrilling and well-crafted set pieces: for chancing to allow the audience to draw its own conclusions from witnessing the realities on the ground. But the filmmakers’ intelligence wavers and, as the film progresses, the movie slips into eye-rolling clichés and manipulations, culminating in a phone call from Will to his wife in which he doesn’t say anything—and then hangs up! Bigelow is a merciless director. Boal, despite his war-reporter background, turns out to be a sucker for schmaltz. Grade: B+
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