Movie Review: The Hurt Locker

Film: The Hurt Locker

Director: Katheryne Bigelow

Cast: Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty

Rating: 6.5/10, More hype, less substance

I was waiting for the theatrical release of this movie in Bombay to experience it the way it is meant to be and try to figure out what exactly does the movie have to make it qualify for as many as six Academy Awards, including the Best Motion Picture, the Best Director and the Best Original Screenplay. I will talk about my opinion later, but first let me throw some light on a phenomenon, popularly called “war movies,” in Hollywood.

Right from the ancient days of Homer in the West and Ved Vyas in the East, War has been the genesis of extraordinary art. Both Illiad and Mahabharata are two of the greatest Epics of the East and the West. And why so? Because war exposes true human nature and creates drama. Extraordinary wars create extraordinary drama and, if visualized and imagined well, extraordinary films. And Hollywood has its fair share of great war films over the years: Saving Private Ryan, Gladiator, Braveheart, Black Hawk Down, Full Metal Jacket, Platoon, The Deer Hunter, All Quiet on the Western Front, Gettysberg, Apocalypse Now, the list is a long and illustrious one. And most of these movies have won Academy Awards, which gives me a reason to believe that the Oscar Academy is biased towards war films. But this biasness was never more apparant than in The Hurt Locker.

Now that I have vented out my frustration, let’s talk about The Hurt Locker. It is about a bomb squad in Iraq who are called on to dispose bombs in the streets of Iraq. After an unfortunate mission kills the previous bomb disposal specialist, Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner) becomes part of the JT Sanborn’s team of three and go on disposal missions regularly. William James, as one of his superiors puts it, is a “wild” soldier. He gets kicks out taking extraordinary risks in disposing bombs, doesn’t wear his suit if he feels uncomfortable, does his job of disposing bombs very passionately, keeps “mementos” from his successful missions in a box, doesn’t care about protocol if they don’t serve the purpose, and has an enviable record of disposing more than eight hundred bombs. On being asked what is the best way to dispose a bomb he replies, “The one that doesn’t get you killed.” While James wears his suit and difuses the bombs, his two team mates provide him cover from any possible attempts to thwart their mission.

Through the squads bomb disposal missions, the film shows the uncertaintly of life of a soldier, who “roll a dice” every day they go out into the field not knowing whether they would come back in the evening, not knowing whom they should trust and whom they should not in the enemy territory. The Hurt Locker is a very realistic and compelling documentation of the physical and mental hazards, that these soldiers go through during or after a war.

Having said that, too much of realism is also not what you would expect from a movie. For a war film to achieve greatness it has to have drama, loads of it. And that’s exactly what is missing in the movie. The process of disposing a bomb may be thrilling once, but not if it is repeated throughout the movie. It is said that the film makers wanted to give the movie a documentary feel. And that explains the shifty camera shots, the extreme close ups, the heavy breathing sounds, the authenticity of the locations (Baghdad, for once, looks like Baghdad). But if they wanted to make a documentary, they should have made a documentary and not pretended to make a feature film. A film need a good story. I didn’t find much of a story here.

Moreover, what’s the point of the movie? What’s the point of showing a bomb disposal quad go about their daily routine for the full two hours when a lot more could have been achieved in those two hours? And what about the tagline of the movie, “War is a drug”? We all know war is a drug and is highly addictive. But the movie fails to show clearly who is it a drug for? The governments who can’t seem to have enough of wars, or for soldiers like William James, for whom life loses its essence beyond the battlefield?

I still can’t figure out why the movie got three of the best Oscars and why all this hype surrounding it. The only explanation I can give is that after 9/11, the Oscar Academy has become extra generous for movies involving war, Iraq or terrorism. Or maybe they wanted to give Katherine Bigelow, a gift on Women’s Day. Or better still, they wanted to bruise James Cameron’s ego by giving his ex wife all the awards (I wish this was the case!). So now you have a sure shot recipe for success: make a movie on Iraq or Islamic militants, show lot of dead bodies and bombs and bullets, and you have a Oscar material in your hands. Never mind if you don’t have a gripping story or great performances from your actors. Never mind if your plot or characters are stereotyped.


The Hurt Locker is more hype than true great movie material and is essentially pointless, stereotypical and boring, and has many loopholes,  but cashes on the sentiments currently prevailing in the western world and gets critical acclaim and thus fan following. Who would dare risk his/her reputation by calling it an average movie when it has got the stamp of approval from the “experts”? After all Oscar Winners are supposed to be great movies, aren’t they? Yeah, right!!


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