The Hurt Locker
Yes, the film does show how harrowing it can be in combat, but there's something far more real about this story and the characters than I think we've seen in most modern war films, and that comes through Mark Boal's writing, Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty's acting, and the superb direction of Kathryn Bigelow.
An elite bomb disposal team is working in Iraq during the height of the occupation, a bomb technician and two soldiers make up the team who are called into highly dangerous situations where regular troops encounter anything from a booby trapped car to a suicide bomber. While the soldiers provide support and cover for the bomb technician, the tech suits up and heads in and try and diffuse the bomb before it can be set off.
The team gain a new bomb technician, and while the previous one was an integral member of the team and exceedingly thorough, this one is a maverick with what would seem to be a bit of a death wish, and he's soon at odds with the team. While the danger and the bombs are escalating around them, the days pass by before the bomb technician's tour is up.
One thing I love about the film is that on a number of occasions it, if you'll pardon the pun, disarms you totally and manages to turn around your standard expectations for the story. Where you thought it might be going one way, it's suddenly going the other, and one of the effects of this is it truly makes you believe that we could lose a main character at any moment.
That's a wonderful aspect of the film because so often Hollywood is as predictable as the executives spreadsheet formula, not so much here though. There are some excellent moments in the film that are really well written and directed, and sometimes they deliver genuine surprises to the audience.
One of my favourite scenes was the sniper battle in the desert which mixes a number of excellent points about the film together. The surprises that are delivered to the audience that disarm them for the rest of the scene, putting them on edge and unsure of what to expect, an ability and talent that is seriously missing from Hollywood scripts and films these days. There's also the seemingly realistic portrayal of combat which goes from terrifying, something the audience feels along with the characters, to boredom, as they camp out and protect their position until reinforcement arrives.
Another scene was in the supermarket which makes the audience feel somewhat out of place and uncomfortable, just as the character is feeling as he's swamped by the banality of everyday life back home.
That raises an interesting point of the film which is to show us that it's not about having a death wish or wanting to die, but about who really is living. It's a scene that, coupled with what has come before and goes after, almost makes you realise why the bomb technician makes the decisions he does.
The bomb disposal scenes are handled extremely well, on paper I couldn't imagine how they were going to get across the experience of being around something so destructive and terrifying with the possibility that it could explode at any moment, however the tension and the suspense is built throughout the scenes, and with the misdirection you've been handed throughout the film, you're never really sure what is going to happen, and that just makes the scenes even more powerful.
Numerous times I was convinced something was going to happen to a character and it never did, in fact there was only one scene that you really had that Hollywood moment and I really don't see how they could have hidden it or if there was a need to.
The film doesn't portray the soldiers as the gung-ho American soldiers we're used to seeing, undoubtedly there are moments like that and some more off the wall soldiers, see David Morse's excellently unnerving portrayal of one such soldier, but there's a good balance here. There are some soldiers like that, but not all. There are some by the book soldiers, but even they go crazy sometimes and lose it, and there are the gung-ho crazy soldiers, but there's much more to them and they are more grounded than you'd expect.
All these moments of war are built around the characters, and they do pull you towards them really easily, in fact I was surprised how quickly I was connected to them, even with a few of the non-main characters, I'm not sure if this is solely down to the writing, directing or acting, but it works really well.
The three leads give great performances, Jeremy Renner as the bomb technician, Anthony Mackie as the by the book Sergeant backing him up in the most dangerous of situations, and Brian Geraghty does well to stand tall with these two strong actors as the younger soldier struggling with a bad decision that's haunting him.
However what stands out the most in The Hurt Locker is just how well the story and characters draw you in and how strong the tension is built. Mark Boal has delivered a great script with strong characters and realistic action, and Kathryn Bigelow has taken it to the screen with strong and realistic direction that keeps the tension high.
This film makes me wish we hadn't had such a quiet period from the director Kathryn Bigelow, for she has excelled herself with The Hurt Locker, bringing an entertaining, realistic, thought provoking and intelligent film that's not just about war.
It's an excellent film that does take you right into combat and makes you almost feel what it's like to be near a bomb blast, or the fear that you could feel in combat trying to disarm one of these weapons in the midst of combat, or makes you think about what soldiers have to deal with when they return to our normal, everyday life.
I'd recommend The Hurt Locker to everyone attending this year's Edinburgh International Film Festival, and for anyone else who has the chance to see it, so the same.