AK and I have been trying to catch as many Oscar-nominated films as possible, which isn't as easy given our location on the Northern Plains. Our cable provider, Midcontinent Communications, has been adding several of the films to their In Demand menu and thus we were able to catch The Hurt Locker this past Sunday. Here is what we thought (warning, spoilers):
The Hurt Locker, a Kathryn Bigelow film from 2009 starring Jeremy Renner (as James), Anthony Mackie (as Sanford) and Brian Geraghty (as Eldridge) and written by Mark Boal, follows a bomb disposal unit (I.E.D's, mostly) in Bagdhad, circa 2004. This was pre-surge mind you, and if memory serves me, the city was a mess at the time.
Our initial thoughts and discussion on the film centred around whether or not the character in the first scene was played by Guy Pearce. I thought yes, AK wasn't sure. Since he looks just like a friend of ours, we had to argue about it for a few minutes and then rewind back to re-watch the scene. As it turns out, I was right. We were both surprised that he bought it in the scene, as we figured someone like Pearce was bound to live just a little longer. We failed at guessing and Pearce died. Our mistake.
Right from that very first scene, we were drawn in to the film and felt immersed in the environment. The grainy video, the sights and the sounds were the big draws for me, and AK thought Renner was hot. So win-win. The use of Jordan to double for Iraq was a good choice too, as it gave the film a stark realism that would have been lacking had they tried another location. The scenery shots featuring the streets, the garbage (no worse than NYC, really) and the locals really helped with the gritty feel. The other extraneous item I want to note is the use and non-use of music. I think that Bigelow's choice of letting several of the very tense scenes run without any music was ideal, and helped to escalate the tension for the viewer. Finally, the quick look snap camera moves were excellent, and really helped to put us in the boots of the characters.
As for the actors themselves, we both really liked the chemistry between all three leads. The relationships were pretty complicated and I thought they evolved nicely as the story wore on, especially the increasing tension levels between James and Sanford, culminating in the drunken wrasslin'/bro-hug scene. The Eldridge character provided a nice contrast to the gung-ho James and the quiet effectiveness of Sanford. He (Eldridge) was quite obviously scared, unhappy to be in Iraq and seemed to have a feeling that he was going to die. If this was a movie made anywhere between 1944 and say 1990, he would have been killed for sure, so I thought the writer did a nice job of keeping him around and having him perform admirably despite his anxiety and Bigelow did well to use him for balance.
Going back to the background shots, I thought that the extras used illustrated a couple of excellent points. First, the Iraqi citizenry looked both pathetic and sinister all at once. That brings me to the second point, which is to note just how difficult it was/is for young soldiers to identify friend from foe in situations like this, especially when you know the wrong decision is really going to bite you in the ass.
There were a couple of small things we didn't care for in the movie. First, though the realism was very high during most of the film, the long-range sniper shot that Sanford made on a running target seemed a little far fetched, especially after he had missed a few stationary shots. We were also wondering where the chain-of-command was hiding? James engaged in a lot of dangerous activity, went briefly AWOL from the base and then endangered his team on a wild goose chase. Are these soldiers all Home Alone? Is the babysitter dead? What gives?
Second, did anyone else that Renner seemed to be channeling both Detective Riggs (extra craziness) and Detective Murtaugh (I'm too old for this shit) from the Lethal Weapon movies? We thought that was a little over the top, and tainted an otherwise awesome performance. Our final peeve was the obviousness of some of the outcomes, especially the psychiatrist being killed. You could see that one coming from a mile away as soon as Eldridge asked him to go out on patrol. Oh, and why did they shoot the grocery store scene in Canada? Did they really need to go on location for 30 seconds of film and use an obviously Canadian (Co-0p, featuring Co-op Gold products) grocery store?
All in all, we felt this was a fantastic film. Very real, very gritty and very powerful. The performances were spot on and the movie hooked us right away. Despite the few little annoyances, we would recommend this movie to anyone. Its neither pro-war nor anti-war, and allows the characters to tell their own tale without any heavy-handed moralizing.