The Hurt Locker is intense, vivid, and yet strikingly delicate. It's a film I wanted to see for a long time but always put off for no real logical reason. The cast is solid, the director is renowned and the praise is unequivocally brilliant. Despite winning Best Picture, Director and Original Screenplay at the 82nd Academy Awards, in addition to numerous other awards, the film is hardly ever given its due among average movie fans. A lot of people, possibly, are dissuaded by its terrifying storyline and content, and perhaps rightly so. Watching this film during the lockdown confirmed it's a great film but not necessarily an easy one to watch. However, if you have the stomach for something fierce and ferocious, this is the movie for you.
The plot revolves around an army bomb disposal squad and the entrance of a maverick new sergeant. Unlike many war-centric movies (think Saving Private Ryan, 1917, Dunkirk, Inglourious Basterds), this movie is not filled with many characters and a massive ensemble cast. However, the cast does feature some brilliant actors who give arguably their career-best performances. Jeremy Renner is superb as the leader of the squad in an Oscar-nominated role. His acting is gritty, powerful, and perfectly suits the demands of the plot. Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty are also adept and nuanced in their supporting roles. The movie largely revolves around three characters and that is, in many ways, its biggest success. This draws the audience in and streamlines the focus, allowing even the average movie watcher to stay engaged and fully enthralled. The film is further lifted through short but solid cameos from great character actors.
The soundtrack – or lack thereof – is perfect for the movie. It relies on a diegetic score (sound which has a source on-screen) for the majority of the running time. This again demands attention and enables the audience to fully engage with the movie. The cinematography is also outstanding. It is crisp, clear, and yet realistic. The movie often switches to the character's point of view, allowing the audience to fully comprehend the scene and situation. One of my major issues with many war movies is the overuse of shaky cams. While they have a purpose (to portray the chaotic nature of war and fighting), after a while it draws the audience out of the movie and makes it hard to focus. Again, unlike other war films, the camera work is never confusing or chaotic in The Hurt Locker. This is largely due to the tight plot as well as the streamlined and very direct approach from director Katheryn Bigelow.
At times the real-ness and rawness of the film seem more akin to a big-budget documentary than a motion picture. However, this is largely a good thing, as the film wastes no time in setting up premises and many shots lack a traditional mise-en-scène (which roughly translates to setting up the scene). It hits hard and it hits direct. The movie mostly moves at a fast pace but is not afraid to slow down when required and explore the delicate and sensitive nature of bomb disposal. Despite the lack of backstories given to the characters, the characters seem fleshed out and complete.
The film is brilliant, tense, thoughtful, and provoking but is a few marks off from being a complete masterpiece. The movie does feel a tad long: some scenes are stretched and others come off as a bit monotonous. This is especially apparent because of the lack of background music (except for the sounds of bombs and guns). While this adds to the reality of the movie, it gets repetitive. Except for at the very end, where the decision to add generic chest-thumping music seems offbeat and like an ill-informed way of making up for the lack of a traditional background score in the rest of the film. This is my biggest complaint and the only one which truly affected my movie-watching experience. Watch the film for strong performances, brilliant cinematography, and raw and real storytelling at its very best.