Sunday, 13 February 2011

The Hurt Locker: This box is full of stuff that almost killed me

Unlike most war films, The Hurt Locker is quiet and careful. It follows a US bomb squad in Iraq, and is mainly made up of tense standoffs that play out in whispers and clicking machinery. The streets are always deserted when the soldiers arrive. As one of them walks towards the bomb in a big blast suit the others scan the buildings around them. People appear at windows, some of them just watching, others waiting to detonate the bomb on the roadside. It's always the quiet before an explosion or a gunshot. In fact, one of the best scenes doesn't even feature a bomb. There's a sniper duel in the middle of the desert, with the soldiers boiling under the sun. As people get picked off around them they have to clean blood off the bullets to make them fire, and fiddle around with straws on juice drinks. There's a slow motion shot of a bullet casing bouncing off the sand. It's slow, tense action. Even when they start running and shouting it feels off balance, a bit surreal. It's like they're policing a ghost town. And made even stranger by the squad leader's attitude. He's laid back and cocky, strolling up to bombs without much worry. If he dies he dies, and he doesn't seem to care. He'll probably get the others killed. He goes off on personal missions, addicted to the 'rush of battle'. The film is about these soldiers rather than the politics of the war. It doesn't even have to be specifically about Iraq. It's closer than that. Without pulling away from the action, it becomes about how the soldiers deal with the everyday danger. There's a clarity to it that you don't get in other war films, a clear focus on a few people that isn't confusing. By showing a handful of characters rather than the whole country, it gives more insight than a chaotic thriller.

The quiet flow of it is hypnotic, full of ticking bombs that could go off at any moment.  It's a sturdy thing that knows exactly what it wants to do and does it well. This is a serious film but also one that's a lot of fun. It only occasionally throws messages at you, but doesn't overdo the psychological trauma angle. As a suspense thriller it is excellent, as a drama it's pretty good. As a film it's solid and watchable.


  1. Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker is one of the most thrilling action films I've seen in the past few years. It features set piece after pulse-quickening set piece. Good Review!

  2. I was a bit worried it was just going to be a series of set pieces, but that would still have been good.