We’re all about comics here at Panels on Pages, but a geek cannot live on comics alone. Outside the Longbox is our chance to spotlight something outside our typical four-color realm – be it movies, music, TV or whatever.
Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker is a rare kind of war film. It was made not to make a political statement about war but rather to show the experiences of those involved. It is one of the most thrilling movies about war ever made, and is without a doubt the best movie I have seen so far this year.
The movie centers around a bomb squad stationed in Iraq. After their team leader is killed during a routine defusion attempt, they are assigned a new tech named Sgt. Will James, played by Jeremy Renner in a performance that is sure to win him some major awards next year. James’ methods are unconventional to say the least; he always insists on inspecting bombs personally, forgoing the safer method of sending a remote out to check on it first. His teammates, Sgt. J.T. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty), find James’ methods reckless and potentially dangerous, despite his success in defusing the bombs. As the movie counts down the number of days left in the team’s tour of Iraq, Sanborn and Eldridge waver between awe and respect of James’ ability and fear that his methods may get them killed.
Bigelow is a veteran action director best known for intense action movies like the 1991 thriller Point Break. Her movies tend to focus on characters that thrive in extremely dangerous situations. The Hurt Locker follows this tradition with its portrayal of James, who is clearly an adrenaline junkie but also shows moments of concern and responsibility toward his teammates. This is reflected during a riveting standoff against a group of insurgents midway through the film. I dare anyone to watch that scene without sitting on the edge of their seat.
The scenes that show the team in action are some of the tensest moments ever shown on film. Bigelow allows the camera to stay on its characters and focus on what they are doing, instead of relying on overused conventions such as quick cuts and “bullet time” shots. This isn’t a war movie that revels in combat scenes and graphic deaths. The techs face certain death every time they respond to the report of a bomb, and the viewer experiences every second of those situations along with the characters, feeling the same anxiety and fear that the squad does. The tension is unrelenting for the majority of the film, and the characters are given just enough back-story and exposition that the viewer is able to emotionally invest in them without feeling manipulated.
The film enjoyed a modestly successful theatrical run this summer, and its upcoming DVD release in January will no doubt win it some new fans and, hopefully, some recognition from Oscar voters. It provides genuine thrills without the typical Hollywood cues and avoids most war movie clichés. The cameo appearances by Ralph Fiennes, David Morse, Guy Pearce, and Lost‘s Evangeline Lilly are handled very subtly without distracting from the overall story. At the end of the film, as James’ motivations are made clearer, he is neither condemned nor applauded. The film provides the same objectivy with his character as it does with war as a whole and allows the viewer to draw his or her own conclusions, which is what most modern films should do more often. This soon-to-be-classic movie gets a resounding 5 out of 5 Shards of Shrapnel.