The Hurt Locker (2009)

★ ★ ★ ★

Conventional war movies bore me. In fact, there are few things that put me to sleep faster than a machine gun laden action sequence. The Hurt Locker is the latest in the underrepresented genre of war movies that are about the soldiers rather than the war. The movie follows a bomb squad through the final days of its deployment in Iraq. The film is remarkably apolitical, focusing on giving us a soldiers eye view of a combat environment. The handheld camera gives us an eye into the paranoia of soldiers in an urban combat environment. We get as close as observers can to experiencing the fog of war. In one scene, a man with a gun is picked off by a sniper. We don't know if he's an insurgent, and we never will. That is how urban warfare works.

While director Kathryn Bigalow was provided a remarkable cast for an independent production, she didn't feel the need to allot screen time based on reputation. Actors were casted for specific roles, and only got as much exposure as their role merited. Bigalow leaned heavily on two relative unknowns, Jeremy Renner and Anthony Mackie, who delivered stunning performances. Each character illustrated the near stoic demeanor required to perform a near suicidal mission. Yet even martyrs are prey to human frailties, and neither character was an exception.

As good as it was, the film was not perfect. The decision to include footage from the home front was at best superfluous, and there were a few departures from the soldiers point of view that diminished the aura of uncertainty. Furthermore, the scenes with the psychologist were characterized by unrealistic dialogue, and weak performances by both doctor and patient.

Shortcomings aside, the film is one of the best war movies of the decade. I would not be disappointed to see it win best picture, and would be extremely disappointed if cinematographer Barry Ackroyd was deprived of an Oscar nomination. After a series of lackluster releases, Kathryn Bigalow has proven that she can be among the best directors around.