Rack ’em up: Rendition, Lions For Lambs, In The Valley Of Elah, Stop-Loss, Redacted… All highprofile Iraq war movies, all boxoffice stiffs.
What is it about the most contentious political event of the 21st Century that inspires such staunch multiplex-dodging? Seen enough on the small screen? Stories too stodgy? Too soon?
The Hurt Locker’s relative success offers an answer. Most of the above have only one thing to say and it’s been said many times before… War is bad. War is hell.
Here, Kathryn Bigelow dares to suggest that, for some, war isn’t hell. She doesn’t skimp on the staples (chaos, futility, cruelty) but also twangs a primal note last heard in The Thin Red Line – do we fight because we have to, because it’s in our nature?
The story – written by journo Mark Boal from his embedded account – follows three EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) technicians on the last month of their tour in 2004 Iraq.
Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner) is bold to the point of reckless, working up close to deadly improvised devices and refusing to wear the standard-issue bomb-suit. His colleagues are the steely Sergeant JT Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and volatile Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty).
James struts through the horror, fatalistic about potential fatality. But his attitude unsettles the others and when a local boy stirs James’ protective instinct, he starts to unravel.
“Their world is unpredictable,” says David Morse (Colonel Reed) in the brief Making Of. “There’s a sense that anybody could go at any time…” Bigelow smartly ditches showy set-pieces and focuses on the defining quality of an EOD soldier’s life: gnawing, tangible tension. By casting little-knowns, the director plays up to Morse’s everyoneis- dispensable air – and reverses the rules with a couple of comically brief star cameos.
The Hurt Locker is pretty much the sister movie to David Simon’s superb miniseries Generation Kill. Both are beautifully shot in smears of reportage-style digital video. Both play out with their own language, on their own terms and in their own world – where the viewer is cast as observer, not voyeur.
There’s also a refreshingly apolitical, humanist agenda that shoots down the notion of Western nobility while careful not to present the insurgents as rightfully righteous. This only falters in a couple of scenes where Bigelow reheats a little Point Break topless-guy camaraderie.
So, it’s taken a woman to skewer the man’s world of modern warfare and now we wait to see if a Brit (Paul Greengrass) can lay bare the US-led invasion with his upcoming Green Zone. Bigelow has, artfully and eloquently, crafted a soldier’s side of the story.
Here’s hoping Greengrass can tackle the politics and do for Iraq what United 93 did for 9/11.
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