The Hurt Locker - DVD Review

'I still felt like I was watching a succession of extremely well put together and expertly directed scenes of tension and chaos, rather than a much deeper and fuller narrative'

It's been a good time for The Hurt Locker recently. It has only just been nominated in the PGA Awards, seen as a key indicator for the Oscar race, with Stephen King also choosing yesterday to pick it as his favourite film of last year. Kathryn Bigelow too has received plenty of talk and pace is a-gathering about her chances of becoming the first woman to walk away with the Oscar for Best Director.

Perhaps a good time then for it to make it out on DVD in order for it to find a whole new audience, or alternatively, a bad time; a reminder to those in the know that it wasn't originally released with the awards season in mind. Despite all the talk, I found it difficult to look at The Hurt Locker with Oscar in mind. It's a good film yes but I'm not sure it's one that's awards worthy and if anything I think the fact it is being talked up so much is rather endemic of the fact that 2009 hasn't really been a great year for great films.

It's not fair, however, to judge The Hurt Locker in relation only to its Oscar chances because even though it's not a great film, it is at least a good one even if sometimes, especially during its first forty-five minutes or so, some may struggle with it. In my case the reason for this was a real lack of focus or driving structure from the get go. We are quickly introduced to a number of characters and it wasn't immediately clear to me that I should be overtly concerned with the career of Sgt. James (Jeremy Renner). Maybe it was down to the fact that Bigelow dispenses with a fairly recognisable face early on in proceedings that I didn't pay close attention to the incoming James but for whatever reason, I struggled to pick up who was meant to be driving the narrative until a little further into the story.

At this point it is testament rather than detriment to Bigelow that I still felt like I was watching a succession of extremely well put together and expertly directed scenes of tension and chaos, rather than the opening part of a much deeper and fuller narrative. Bombs were found or expected to be found, insurgents were confronted or narrowly avoided, the heat of Iraq was conquered or succumbed to; the film moves fast, often keeps you guessing and wastes little time on mindless and distracting forays into base life although, occasionally, they do threaten to creep in.

As The Hurt Locker draws on, Bigelow draws us more in to her story and that means more into Renner's character. James is an ace in the hole, a bomb disposal expert with an excellent and successful track record, but he is also a delusional, aloof, idiot and suffers from widely wavering perceptions about what is going on and what his place is in it all. By the end, Bigelow has spelt her message about testosterone charged thrill seeking out explicitly and to the letter but I never felt like we got a real window on James' soul and if anything the two members of his team tasked with keeping him alive (Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty) felt more interesting portrayals of men at war under pressure, perhaps explaining why we get a substantial amount of handholding through the film's final moments.

The Hurt Locker is a success and while critics have been leaping over themselves to point out the fact that it is not an Iraq film, more a film about men being men, that in itself says something about certain events over there. It's not however, perfect and suffers from confusion about whether it wants to be distant and evasive or upfront and tell tale. A stereotypical and perhaps overly patriotic moment where the helpless Brits are rescued by Renner's Americans didn't help to endear it to me and if it is going to win or come close to the Oscar then it will have to keep building momentum at a faster rate than its own first half.

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One of Rotten Tomatoes 'Top Critics' is also one of the few to give it a rotten rating. Variety's Derek Elley commenting that it 'doesn't bring anything new to the table of grunts-in-the-firing-line movies'.


  1. I had a lot of the same feelings as you did while watching it up until the grocery store scene. Here we have a man, who with no thought at all, can dissect, disarm, and save the lives of hundreds. You ask him to go to the grocery store and get cereal and he's lost. For me that spoke leaps and bounds about his character. And this got a lot better on a 2nd viewing because of it all.

  2. Interesting. I thought not only that this was the best film of the year, but also one of the very best of the decade on the whole.

    I was more drawn in by the point that war is a drug, and that there are in fact people out there who thrive in those sorts of twisted conditions even though they can barely tie their own shoelaces when you get them back home.

    I wouldn't make too much of the scene where they help out The Brits...they were helping mercenary bounty hunters, not an actual UK platoon. America owes a lot to England for their help in this mission, I doubt anyone could make veiled jabs.

    I can't persuade you to give it another watch in a little while, can I?

  3. I read both your reviews of it and take your points on board. I'll definitely watch it again because it's featured in nearly every 'list of the year' I've seen so I'm willing and open to get something else out of it on repeat viewings.

    I to am not taking too much out of the Brit/American scene and I'm definitely not accusing it of being a political comment (nor was I trying to make one... attempting to tread very carefully here!). It's a trope that has appeared for many a year (not just in American films) and while The Hurt Locker is too intelligent to indulge in it I just didn't think it needed to be there to re-enforce previous examples if anyone was so minded to make an argument down that road.

    Was aware I hadn't expressed that little comment very well so hope that is now as clear as only slightly muddy water!

  4. Coming at this several months later in the wake of my own revisitation of The Hurt Locker, I of course agree with most of your points.

    And not to pick on you, MH, but I actually don't like something about the whole "war is a drug" thing -- that they had to spell it out for us with an on-screen quote before the action started. (So that's not picking on you, I guess, but picking on the filmmaker's inability to be subtle, in this case at least.) Didn't she (Bigelow) or he (Boal), or whoever was responsible for that, think that we would get that idea without them having to spell it out so blatantly?

    I think it's very easy to respect a lot about this film, and it's a film I'd like to love more than I actually love it. I also don't think pointing out its flaws ultimately detracts too much from it, it just opens up good discussions. As you say, it was released in June, not when Oscar movies are usually released. This was a small film that went far, but it started out as a small film for a reason. Thumbs up from me, but not enthusiastically.

    Oh, and I actually enjoyed the scene with Ralph Fiennes et al, and didn't see a particular political overtone to it. But as I said in my own review, it was almost problematic that I enjoyed this scene, because it doesn't have much to do with the rest of the movie. If you're going with the idea that every scene in a movie should contribute to the whole, this scene doesn't, really.

  5. Thanks for taking the time to comment after posting your own review Vance.

    Boal and Bigelow have spoken (since, I believe, I published this review) about the Fiennes scene and revealed that it was only there in order to get him into the movie, thus helping to secure funding and distribution.

    This is problematic for me for two reasons, the first being the fact that it obviously backs up both mine and Vance's criticism of the films structure as difficult and secular, rather than something which is easier to follow.

    It's also a problem when I go back to my original point about the scene. Whatever your opinion on the scene in this case there IS a trope, or at least a reacurrence, in American movies of the American troops wading in to save the Brits. Boal knew he had to include Fiennes in a scene and this is what he thought of...

    Having said that, the only place I can find the reference to Boal saying this is at the end of this article ( where he claims that Fiennes rejected a scene with him as a British ambassador which admittedly damages my second point slightly but rather proves the first one.

    I don't think it's a political statement about the Iraq war in anyway, I just think it's unfortunate stereotyping and unoriginal screenwriting.

    I agree with you about respecting the film by the way. I still gave in 3*, I still enjoyed it, I appreciate what it was trying to do; I just also thought it had some significant problems.