IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! The Hurt Locker

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Alfred Hitchcock once said that there's a big difference between surprise and suspense. I hope he won't mind if I paraphrase a little. If I were sitting here talking about movies, and my desk were to explode because someone planted a bomb here, that'd be a surprise. Now, if you as the audience knew there was a bomb under my desk, and I sat here for the next six minutes or so blathering on about a movie, only to get up and walk away without the bomb going off, that's suspense. And we wouldn't necessarily need jump-cut shots to a ticking timer or dramatic music playing. No, just an establishing shot of the bomb being placed, then me coming in and sitting down to do another one of these recordings, without any other trappings or clever gimmicks. That's good storytelling, right? Right. The makers of The Hurt Locker know suspense from surprise, and have created one of the most suspenseful movies I have ever seen in my life. It stars Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty, Evangeline Lilly, David Morse, Ralph Finnes and Guy Pearce.

Courtesy Voltage Pictures
"...Oh boy."

The Hurt Locker follows the Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit Bravo Company during the summer of 2004 in Iraq. Staff Sergeant Will James (Renner) is a soldier who defuses bombs. He's one of the best, even if his methods can seem a trifle cavalier or even reckless to others, especially Sergeant J.T. Sanborn (Mackie), who is charged with James' safety during his operations. Yet this seeming bravado is just the first impression of a brilliant professional who understands his role in the grand scheme of modern warfare and also carries a great deal of compassion for those around him despite his outward appearances and behavior. As Bravo Company embarks on one potentially deadly mission after another, we are drawn into their lives and shown the environment in which these men toil, from the desolate wastes of the desert to the equally deadly streets of Baghdad.

There are some movies that, when a war is mentioned, I think of almost instantly. World War 2 brings Saving Private Ryan to mind. Discussions of Vietnam trigger memories of Full Metal Jacket. I spend just as much time remembering Jarhead as I do my own childhood experiences when the first Gulf War is mentioned. The current conflict in the Middle East remains a muddy, ill-defined struggle, but The Hurt Locker brings the lives of the participants into sharp relief. This film is every bit as intimate as it is intense. It never becomes political or preachy, focusing entirely on these men and the situations into which they put themselves day after day. Like the other films I've mentioned, we see these soldiers not so much as swaggering macho heroes but more as flawed, driven human beings who are all the more heroic because of their shortcomings.

Courtesy Voltage Pictures
"This one, I'm gonna disarm with the sheer power of my massive balls."

This film is almost entirely without a musical score. The scenes involving the defusing of explosive devices and stalking an enemy sniper are possessed of a chilling stillness, which builds the tension with each passing, quiet moment. The shots are not cut short to try and jar us into a tense feeling artificially, but are left long on the faces and fingers of the protagonists, ensuring we understand who is doing what at which point in time and thus becoming more invested in the outcome of the scene. And in an odd yet telling juxtaposition, one of the film's closing scenes that takes place in a suburban supermarket, far from the front or anything resembling danger, has an extremely similar stillness about it.

A lesser team of storytellers might pack a film like this with explosions from end to end. But considering this is a story about soldiers tasked with disarming ordnance, rather than setting it off, one of the many factors of The Hurt Locker that works so well is the fact that we are aware of the fact that any of the bombs we see might go off. Hitchcock would be proud, as writer Mark Boal and director Kathryn Bigelow build layer upon layer in every scene to mount the tension to an explosive potential not unlike that possessed by the bombs themselves. It's also established very early in the film that these are not the sort of explosions that our heroes can have much hope of outrunning. There are no rushing fireballs chasing our heroes down corridors here, no shiny CGI to make these explosions look larger than life. They don't have to be larger than life: they are awesome, deadly and downright ugly just as they are. You don't want to be anywhere near them, yet the men and women whose daily lives inspired the story of Bravo Company choose to get right next to them every single day.

Courtesy Voltage Pictures
"I popped that smoke myself. Why? Because covering fire is for cowards."

This is one of those movies I'm sorry I missed in the theater. Not because I think it would be more impressive on a big screen, since it held me in rapt attention from start to finish on my television just as it would in a cinema. No, I would have liked to given these artists more monetary support. The talent on display in The Hurt Locker, from Jeremy Renner's star-making performance to Katheryn Bigelow's near-perfect direction to Mark Boal's captivating screenplay, is a wonder to behold in a cinematic environment where gimmick is king and stories are often sacrificed on the altar of CGI and cheap adaptations. Whatever your feelings might be about the conflict in Iraq, the United States military or a movie that didn't do all that well at the box office, you owe it to yourself to see this movie. I think it's a strong contender for Best Picture at the Oscars, provided James Cameron doesn't buy the committee five-star dinners and oral sex with his massive box office returns.

The bombs in the film are designed to blow up human targets. If you're anything like me, you will agree The Hurt Locker is designed to blow your mind.

Josh Loomis can't always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it's unclear if this week's film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain... IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

I must see this film now!!

*Runs down to local DVD shop and demands DVD, foaming at the mouth and very possibly naked*

Aside from making me do that, another excellent review. If people paid by quality, you'd be a billionaire by now.

Thanks. I mean it. But I don't want to be a billionaire - just paid well enough to do stuff like this for a living instead what I normally do for at least 7 hours a day.

Hmm... What's wrong with the strategy of simply using a chopper to fly the bombs away?

Great review! And great movie!

I'm going to get it now.

OHOY!

I still really ned to watch this movie, and now i just wanna see it more.
wow though, thats one of the finest reviews i've ever read.

Hubilub:
Hmm... What's wrong with the strategy of simply using a chopper to fly the bombs away?

Great review! And great movie!

I'm going to get it now.

OHOY!

Remote detonation

keybird:

Hubilub:
Hmm... What's wrong with the strategy of simply using a chopper to fly the bombs away?

Great review! And great movie!

I'm going to get it now.

OHOY!

Remote detonation

But it'll explode in the air.

Not dangerous!

OK, that strategy is bad...

Bomb the place before they do?

keybird:

Hubilub:
Hmm... What's wrong with the strategy of simply using a chopper to fly the bombs away?

Great review! And great movie!

I'm going to get it now.

OHOY!

Remote detonation

They mention remote det more than once in the film. In fact, the opening sequence is a setup for just such a situation, the remote det of an unexploded 155mm howitzer round.

BlueInkAlchemist:

keybird:

Hubilub:
Hmm... What's wrong with the strategy of simply using a chopper to fly the bombs away?

Great review! And great movie!

I'm going to get it now.

OHOY!

Remote detonation

They mention remote det more than once in the film. In fact, the opening sequence is a setup for just such a situation, the remote det of an unexploded 155mm howitzer round.

YAAAAR, matey, that was a damn fine film if I can say it myself.

Thanks for the recommendation

Didn't know Ralph Fiennes and Guy Pearce were in this film, looking forward to seeing it even more now.

I quite enjoyed this review, I was always going to, given the reference to the Hitchcock's classic suspense versus surprise ruminations, but the focus on the characters and the creation of tension appealed to me.

You manage to use a technique I'm usually uncomfortable with, but made it work. Inclusive descriptions like " we see these soldiers" " The shots are not cut short to try and jar us" etc. so often feels like a superficial attempt to force readers (or even listeners in this case) into the same mindset as the reviewer, and the insight must be spot on to prevent the reader having a negative reaction to being associated with the described viewpoint, but it never leaves an impression of an unreasonable assumption here. And it completely avoids the pomposity I feel some users of that technique (Ebert) have, or the glaring, in your face familiarity others do (many game reviewers).

Good job, but I have a few quibbles. It's too general in its discussion of the characters, only discussing two in any depth, and the actor's performances are totally ignored. Referring to Renner's performance as "star-making" at the end still doesn't give it the prominence it appears to deserve.

Also, this struck me with your Battlestar Galatica review too, but the cast list at the end of the first paragraph seemed even more out of place here. I noticed that you skip it in your audio version, and it does detract from the mood built up by the rest of that first paragraph.

The first part of the third paragraph, where you discuss the films you link with certain conflicts seemed a bit unnecessary. Also, some phrasing seemed to be focused more on adding some flourish rather than accuracy, i.e "a cinematic environment where gimmick is king and stories are often sacrificed on the altar of CGI and cheap adaptations." doesn't quite work, especially the "cheap adaptions" bit.

pigeon_of_doom:
I quite enjoyed this review, I was always going to, given the reference to the Hitchcock's classic suspense versus surprise ruminations, but the focus on the characters and the creation of tension appealed to me.

You manage to use a technique I'm usually uncomfortable with, but made it work. Inclusive descriptions like " we see these soldiers" " The shots are not cut short to try and jar us" etc. so often feels like a superficial attempt to force readers (or even listeners in this case) into the same mindset as the reviewer, and the insight must be spot on to prevent the reader having a negative reaction to being associated with the described viewpoint, but it never leaves an impression of an unreasonable assumption here. And it completely avoids the pomposity I feel some users of that technique (Ebert) have, or the glaring, in your face familiarity others do (many game reviewers).

Good job, but I have a few quibbles. It's too general in its discussion of the characters, only discussing two in any depth, and the actor's performances are totally ignored. Referring to Renner's performance as "star-making" at the end still doesn't give it the prominence it appears to deserve.

Also, this struck me with your Battlestar Galatica review too, but the cast list at the end of the first paragraph seemed even more out of place here. I noticed that you skip it in your audio version, and it does detract from the mood built up by the rest of that first paragraph.

The first part of the third paragraph, where you discuss the films you link with certain conflicts seemed a bit unnecessary. Also, some phrasing seemed to be focused more on adding some flourish rather than accuracy, i.e "a cinematic environment where gimmick is king and stories are often sacrificed on the altar of CGI and cheap adaptations." doesn't quite work, especially the "cheap adaptions" bit.

This is great feedback; thank you very much!

I'm definitely interested in streamlining the whole process and tightening things up. After all, it's possible I can get these onto their own RSS feed and up to iTunes, and I wouldn't want them to be crap.

My mate let me borrow it under his recommendation, and i totally agree with your review, i spent the whole time when he was in the car on the edge of my seat

Just watched it the other day, and now it's my current favorite movie. the ending seems to showcase the philosophy of Jarhead.

 

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