In review: The Hurt Locker

The Hurt Locker
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty
Rating: 8/10

Not very often is a film struck from its original release date when early reviews deem it “the film to beat” at the Oscars that year. Such a case is Kathryn Bigelows’s The Hurt Locker, a movie that was set to be released last year, but was bumped to now, steaming ahead to the 2010 Awards and not looking back.

It may have hurt my own personal opinion of the movie knowing this information going into the screening, but alas, it didn’t stop me from at least liking it.

What the movie takes a look at is an operative bomb squad stationed in Iraq, who feel out and disarm any bomb suspicions sanctioned to them. After their leader is fatally injured during a run, a substitute replaces him for the last 40 odd days of the company’s rotation. The substitute, Sgt. Will James, is very much a rebel in the world of disarming bombs though, never taking a look at the “book” at any time. To the dismay and sometimes pleasure of his two other team members, James’ ways interfere with what is a common standard in the war time world, and the three men learn to bond through butting heads.

Right from the get go, Bigelow’s direction demonstrates the Academy Award standard in almost all aspects. She provides a brilliantly cynical subject matter and makes the narrative outweigh any political agenda the screenplay may have called for. Throughout, there is a sordidly tense atmosphere. Specifically in the first half of the film, we are given some of the most intense cinema witnessed throughout the decade. Truly, some heart pounding work.

Her ability to deal with a cast of nearly all men is also remarkable as a feminine touch is almost unnoticeable. Instead, the movie gives off a very masculine presence, so much so that the homosexual undertones almost outweigh any heterosexual ones. The relationship between the soldiers really comes close to making The Hurt Locker the Brokeback Mountain of war movies.

It is a shame that the second half of the film cannot live up to the first half. It begins to die down into the third act and any sort of climactic finale feels rushed and thus isn’t nearly as powerful as say, the film’s opening sequence. It’s not to say the second half is bad, it’s just too tame for its own good it seems.

Leading a cast of mostly up and comers, Jeremy Renner takes on his first major leading role as Sgt. James. He delivers throughout, but unfortunately didn’t hit it as clean out of the park as some other leading performances this year (most notable, Sam Rockwell in Moon). Still, he is Oscar worthy, if only for the nomination, and it is one heck of a Hollywood introduction.

Category fraud will almost certainly find Anthony Mackie as he is not quite the leading role, but certainly isn’t supporting as well. Mackie, who has been around the block over the past few years, may finally get noticed on his second pass, providing a terrific portrayal of James’ tough as nails second in command Sgt. Sanborn. Throughout I couldn’t tell whether I felt he was Award worthy or not until one scene made his entire performance for me. You’ll recognize which one I am referring to, no problem.

This movie also boasts some impressive mini-performances by Guy Pearce and Ralph Fiennes. Their casting helps to develop the sense of importance and affects the outcome of their scenes to a massive degree. The movie really does have some great casting.

As far as war movies go, the cinematography isn’t revolutionary by any means, but it definitely gets the job done. The shaky cam provides some real quality in-your-face filmmaking, and brings out the sand and dirt colouring straight to the surface. It works with Bigelow’s vision wonderfully.

So does The Hurt Locker deserve the early praise that it has been given since last year? Probably not to the same level, but I would have to say yes. My own personal opinion of it is that it is a great character study with a fine narrative attached, but it simply doesn’t deliver to its fullest during the second hour.

Would I nominate it for Best Picture? Probably not. Will the Academy? Especially with the newly adhered 10 nominees, I would put my money on it.