moviereview colin fraser film movie australia review critic flicks the hurt locker
In the 18 months since Bigelow’s gut-wrenching film debuted to astounded critics at the Venice Film Festival, its reputation has grown exponentially, taking out top honours at the BAFTAs and on to Oscar glory despite stiff (albeit box-office) competition from ex-husband James Cameron’s Avatar. There is a movie-god, and she smiled benignly on Bigelow for not only is The Hurt Locker a masterpiece of war cinema, it is a masterpiece of filmmaking. It is the year’s best film to date.

On one level a staggering depiction of the unreality of conflict, it is also a gruelling character drama played out in the parched theatre of Iraq where a small band of soldiers hold down the most dangerous of all duties: defusing unexploded ordinance. Sgt James (Jeremy Renner) is a newcomer, an adrenaline junkie who relishes the unbearable tension that the prospect of death offers every day. Less so his immediate colleagues who begin to fear the threat posed by this loose cannon in their ranks. But soldering is solidarity, and war is hell, from without or within.

Central to the success of The Hurt Locker is Bigelow’s extraordinary treatment of horror. It remains front and central as a string of A-listers discover to their character’s peril, yet it neither overwhelms nor is it burdened by the guilt that has sapped so many contemporary post-9/11 explorations. This reflects a very different experience, one that holds a horrific reality at its core while quietly turning the screws of tension before a kick-arse ending of stunning simplicity. Bigelow is concerned less by the situation than by the men and what makes them tick; the consequence of which is a stunning character-driven action thriller propelled by three exceptional performances.

Ignore the notion of yet another Iraq film. The Hurt Locker is so much more. It is a close encounter with the unremitting anxiety of obsession, the stomach-churning suspense of combat, and the pulse-quickening traction of a wire hooked to a button. If war is a drug, small wonder they can’t kick the habit.



Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker is a story of addiction. This is not the addiction to drugs or sex, but the potent and alluring attraction of war and the soldier psychology that drives some men to indulge in the high risk profession of disarming bombs. Not just ordinary bombs, if there were such things, but bombs that can kill for 300metres, leaving nothing left to pick up when they go off.

The war zone was filmed in Jordan which closely resembles the Iraqi terrain. It is hot and dusty and the place is in ruins. Chaos reigns. No-one trusts anyone and a soldier’s mind starts to reach new heights of paranoia. The opening scene is a voyage into hell. We are with an elite group of US combatants whose job it is to clear the area and diffuse a bomb left on the side of the road. You are on the edge of your seat almost smelling the fear. And fear has, according to Bigelow, ‘a bad reputation’.

Our first encounter is with Sergeant Matt Thompson (Guy Pearce), who heads into the zone wearing a bomb disposal suit that makes an astronaut look underdressed. The job has a high mortality rate. The disarmament procedure is adrenalin charged and his only tool is a pair of pliers. The scene is so tense that I have to admit that I spent most of it looking at my feet. It’s real and scary as hell.

Thompson is blown to smithereens and this is not giving the game away, it just lets us move on to the next soldier, Staff Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner), who has seen and done it all before and can’t get enough of the action. He is cocky, fearless and plays Russian roulette with the wires.

Bigelow takes us back to his hometown to witness a scene of domesticity where his wife, Connie (Evangeline Lilly), tends to their child. Life is ‘normal’ and serene. It’s too normal perhaps and this is where we begin to realize how out of touch with reality the soldiers are and have become, during and after their tours of duty. Is it the insurmountable challenge that faces men in such dire circumstances which makes them feel the need to return to the battlefield and experience more madness?

Most soldiers are volunteers, not draftees and this is exemplified in Ralph Feinnes’ character who is credited as a Contractor Team leader. He is part of a group of soldiers who are mercenaries, fighting a futile battle in the middle of nowhere. It is a brutal scene and they are desperate buddies who are out there just trying to stay alive. They are ambushed and picked off like rabbits, unable to get back up from anyone. Meanwhile, back in the remains of the city, the tension is heightened when we follow the soldiers into an Iraqi bomb factory, set up in a building that looks as if it has been hit by mortar shells. Once again, the scene is unrelenting and utterly harrowing, as the soldiers experience the atrocity of war.

Bigelow has authentically adapted Boal’s stories of contemporary conflict. She succeeds in portraying them on screen in a manner that repels and fascinates at the same time. This is a genre that audiences either love or hate. The film delivers a palpable sense of fear and tension which reminds you that all wars, whether in Vietnam or Iraq, or places in-between, always contain ‘…the horror, the horror…’

moviereview colin fraser film movie australia review critic flicks the hurt locker