Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Hurt Locker (2009)

I feel like it is absolutely essential to start this review off with a little blast from the past. The year was 2009. Sure, it may not be the most far-off year, but what a year it was. It was certainly a gargantuan year for movies. It began as kind of a weak year. But around April, the year took off. I’m not saying all of the films that came out were all masterpieces, but they certainly were memorable with blockbusters filling more cineplexes than we could count. Hell, seven films that were released in 2009 would place on the top 50 list of the highest-grossing films of all time.

However, there were two films that were distinct for that year, both of which were juggernauts in some manner. The first film was Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker, the war film that specifically won the hearts of film critics. Most, if not all, of the major film critics in America placed this on their year-end best-of lists. It was a critical juggernaut.

The second film was James Cameron’s Avatar. In terms of this film, “juggernaut” would be an understatement. It completely swept through the consciousness of modern audiences and became the highest-grossing film of all-time, grossing over 2 billion dollars worldwide!

Naturally, when it was time to reveal the nominations for the 82nd Academy Awards, honoring the achievements and acmes for film in 2009, two of the Best Picture nominations were The Hurt Locker and Avatar. Ironically, Bigelow and Cameron were married to each other at one point, so it was the quintessential “battle of the sexes.” Who would reign supreme? Would it be the critical darling or the massive box-office success? Or neither? Seeing how I was 13 at the time, I, aptly, predicted the box-office success would win. After all, the Oscars wouldn’t snub the newly crowned highest grossing film of all time, right? Wrong!

I woke up on March 8th, 2010 to check the results and, to my surprise, under the Best Picture winner, I saw three words: The Hurt Locker. Eventually, it was time for me to decide which was the better film. In August of 2012, I finally checked out Avatar from beginning to end and was immediately caught spellbound by its imagery and creativity. This year, I checked out The Hurt Locker, not exactly knowing what to expect. All I’ll say is: Kathryn Bigelow, you win! All hail the queen!

The film alerts all spectators of its theme and plants its feet into the ground by opening with a Chris Hedges quote, “The rush of battle is a potent and often lethal addiction, for war is a drug.” This immediately seems like a change of pace from the typical war film, which usually either depicts the horror, honor, or both aspects of war. Here, war isn’t merely that. To some men, war is a high, an obsession, and a way to get adrenaline flowing. One of these men is Sergeant William James, who has been recently recruited as the new leader of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal after another Sergeant dies after a bombing incident. Despite the uneasy response from his fellow men, he has an intense expertise for defusing bombs. The place of operation is Iraq where any minute of these men’s lives could be their last.

Whenever I review a film, it is my obligation and duty, in my opinion, to take notes beforehand to provide framework for a review and to use as an agenda for the points I aspire to introduce and evaluate. This time, I refused. No word or observation that I could write down could ever fixate and validate my true feeling for the film. I feel that that’s partially what being a critic is all about: feeling. Passion is a necessary facet for a critic to possess and I am most certainly passionate about this film.
I was utterly mesmerized by this film. Every frame of this is hypnotic. Every laugh is explosive. Every beat is excruciatingly tense. Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal have flawlessly created an atmosphere of unrelenting and foreboding tension. Every single, solitary moment forced my spine to tingle and my nerves to chill. The fact that any misstep or trick can prove fatal makes this film scarier that most horror films I’ve seen.

Another person that creates anxiety is cinematographer Barry Ackroyd. He provides some of the most masterful camerawork I’ve seen in a while. I’m not flat-out against the use of shaky cam in films, but when one overuses it, my God it can be annoying! Here, Ackroyd knows precisely how to use it. It is a perfect compliment to the gritty nature and uneasy subject matter of the film. It gives the film a more realistic and powerful vibe. When the camera shakes frenetically, it seems to be the external justification of the inward anxiety felt by the audience and the characters. The music is spare yet haunting and just adds to the fear that the film exudes.

The acting is flat-out superb. While players such as Ralph Fiennes, Brian Geraghty, and 8 Mile’s Anthony Mackie do a bang-up job in their roles, the essence of the film belongs to Jeremy Renner as Sergeant James. For a film with such a unique theme, it is essential for the writing and the acting to click as a single unit to form a cohesive and fluid character portrayal. This film does exactly that. What’s remarkable about Mark Boal’s writing is that he doesn’t label Sergeant James. He merely depicts him. Is he a hero? Not exactly. An anti-hero? Probably not. An enemy? No. He is merely a person. A person who feeds off of the bizarre energy of war, but is stuck when he has to play a much larger role: the husband and father. Jeremy Renner plays Sergeant James with every bit of the intense machismo, persistent courage, and sympathetic disorientation that the role requires.

This film is a miraculous achievement. On any level you want to judge the film on (be it sensory, technical, thematic, emotional, performance), the film excels. Currently, I have not seen a war film that plunged me into war and made me feel for the men like this film did. This is a classic that will endure for many years to come. I predict that years from now, film students who are studying war films will have to view this after they spend two months dissecting and analyzing Apocalypse Now. If God loves film as much as I do, hopefully that will happen.

RATING: Four stars out of four!

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