MOVIE RATING: 4 stars (B+)
(Updated February 19, 2012)
I recently revisited The Hurt Locker (2008) by viewing its premiere on Showtime HD. As the Best Picture Oscar winner of 2009, The Hurt Locker is definitely a good movie well worth watching…and an important movie about our current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It’s a film that explores some of the psychological effects that modern warfare has on the soldiers fighting these wars, specifically the soldiers that disarm bombs. Our current wars don’t have the same cut-and-dry sides that WWII did, when the good guys and bad guys were more clearly defined. But war is still war at its most basic levels, and every war means that the soldiers have to deal with killing and death.
My appreciation of The Hurt Locker has not changed in the last year since I first saw the film and reviewed it here on my blog. I give it 3.5 stars out of 5. Having now seen 6 out of the 10 nominated Best Picture films for 2009, along with a bunch of other 2009 films not nominated for Best Picture, I’m not so sure that The Hurt Locker deserved to win Best Picture of 2009. I do think it was deserving over Avatar, which was visually and technologically incredible, but empty in terms of its story and characters. But my pick for best picture of 2009 is the underrated and not nominated A Single Man by director Tom Ford, followed by (500) Days of Summer and Crazy Heart. And out of the group of war films in 2009, I think Brothers was just slightly better than The Hurt Locker, The Messenger, and Inglourious Basterds. But all 4 of these war films are worthy of viewing. It’s not my intention to harp on whether or not The Hurt Locker was awards-worthy, but I thought I’d share my opinions here since I’ve now seen enough films from 2009 to render an opinion.
What I will emphasize that is brilliant about The Hurt Locker is the documentary-style cinematography and storytelling. Screenwriter Mark Boal, a journalist who was embedded with troops in Iraq during the war, brings a realism and depth to the story and its characters that feels authentic. Certainly parts of the movie are dramatized and Hollywood-ized as all fiction films are, but for the most part, you feel like you are right there in Iraq with the soldiers. The production design is flawless, with that same sun-bleached dusty desert look that we’ve become accustomed to in war movies about the middle east from the past 10 years. That look and feel really goes back to the excellent film Three Kings (1999), which was one of the first middle-eastern set “war” films, along with Courage Under Fire (1996). And it continued with Ridley Scott’s excellent film Black Hawk Down (2001).
There is no doubt in my mind that Director Kathryn Bigelow deserved her Best Directing Oscar. She’s a very talented woman in what is generally a man’s field. And for her to have made the statements she’s made with her films over the years, she deserves Academy recognition. And of course we were well overdue for our first female Best Director. I do think Point Break (1991) is her best film, with The Hurt Locker at #2. Her Oscar win, like so many, is really for her body of work. The Hurt Locker was simply the film that pushed her over the edge into winning.
As I mentioned in my previous review, the three main actors, led by Jeremy Renner, are very good in this film, even though their characters seem a little empty and distant at times. Of course one could argue that they are that way because that’s how these soldiers are and have to be to do their job. They can’t get too emotional or involved, but instead stay “distant” to protect themselves. I do buy that argument, but this is still a movie, and for me to care about the characters, I need to be able to understand and feel who they are and what they are up to. There are moments in the film that provide that, but they are connected by long spells without it.
The pacing and editing of The Hurt Locker are very solid and at times brilliant. Using multiple cameras to shoot various scenes in the film, the filmmakers apparently had a million feet of film to work from to create and edit this movie. So my hats are off to the editors working hard to chip away the best of all the material captured for this story. There are a few scenes where the tension and emotion are so palpable, that you just become fixed to your TV anxiously awaiting resolution. And it’s those moments that elevate this film from the pack and make it good. This is simply one of those films you have to see if you’re an American and a movie lover. There are definitely moments of cinematic brilliance in this film, evidenced by some of the still images below from the trailer. I just wish those moments added up to a little more.