THE HURT LOCKER
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Screenwriter: Mark Boal
Runtime: 131 mins
Australian Release Date: 4 February 2010
Previewed at: Dendy Cinemas, Newtown, Sydney on 2 February 2010
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 300 metres, 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…’