The Hurt Locker
Starring Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Ralph Fiennes, Guy Pearce, and Evangeline Lilly
In every suspenseful moment in a movie the sound will drop to a low hum or a quiet murmur of strings to get the audience on the edge of their seats.
The director may want this moment to carry on for as long as humanly possible, but usually its clear that the suspense has to lead to something, but in this case it doesn’t.
The Hurt Locker follows a squad of unsung heroes in the Iraq war, the Explosive Ordinance Disposal team or EODs – the guys who are called in whenever somebody yells “bomb” somewhere in Iraq.
William James, played by Jeremy Renner, is an EOD specialist who is called in to replace a fallen squad leader. The squad carries out its normal business of disarming bombs, cut with brief scenes of off-duty time.
If this basic premise seems insufficient you’ll be disappointed, as the film doesn’t exhibit much else. Nevertheless, it manages to stay afloat.
Naturally, a film about disarming bombs can be expected to have a “red wire, blue wire” moment where the protagonist has only a few short seconds to make a decision that could either save the day or end the world.
As reasonable as this expectation is, there is no such moment. The focus is more on the squad members themselves as apposed to the bombs. It’s easy to imagine director Kathryn Bigelow explain that it’s humanistic or more character driven as justification.
Somewhere in the late ‘90s someone decided it would be a good idea to do handheld cinematography because “it makes it look more real.”
Ever since, the style has caught on to the point where directors are putting it in their movies just for good measure even when it isn’t called for.
Thankfully, The Hurt Locker’s handheld work is justified, as it takes place in a war zone. However, when Bigelow combines handheld camera work and really tight zooms, the image is so shaky it almost takes the audience out of the scene. It’s like spinning around in circles for 30 seconds then taking a couple of seconds to find out which part of the room is still spinning.
The audience is not spoon-fed overt character exposition; instead it’s much more of a guarded presentation of each person.
While Renner’s character doesn’t deviate much from the rugged unconventional loner with nothing to lose, he is still entertaining. The dramatic tension between him and his squad member Samborn (Anthony Mackie) yields some surprises.
While it’s usually not a critic’s role to say “to each his own,” The Hurt Locker’s value as a movie rests solely on the audience’s appreciation for the narrative style, which is, in a word, quiet. The film never assumes the pace of a blood-pumping action film. It could be called minimalist.
The narrative style can be seen as boring, slow, and anticlimactic, or it could be considered effectively suspenseful, engaging, original, and thought provoking. Either claim would have merit.
2.5 out of 4 stars