"'Movies about war are a dime a dozen but Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker is a sparkling gem ...'"

Movies about war are a dime a dozen but Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker is a sparkling gem amongst the tide of films in the genre combining edge of your seat suspense, gripping drama and compelling storytelling to make of the best war movies released about the Iraq war.

The film follows a three-man bomb disposal team in Iraq, working against the clock to disarm roadside bombs and booby traps. There’s an unbelievable amount of suspense generated by the team’s efforts -enough to keep you biting your nails for the first full hour of the movie.  Drama comes from the team’s interaction with one another as people and shows how the mounting pressures of such a dangerous job and their conflicting attitudes strain their relationships.

The film has a grainy feel to it, generated by Bigelow’s choice to shoot on 16mm film and with a handheld camera for much of it.  As a result, the landscape looks washed out and bleak, an effective reflection of the soldiers’ situations and jobs.  The handheld footage gives a documentary feel to the proceedings and adds to the immersion and immediacy you’ll feel as a viewer; it’s as if you were riding along right there with them.  This is mixed with some effortlessly stylistic footage – a slow motion shot of dust being shaken off a car during an explosion is one of the film’s visual highlights.

This stylistic flair is helped along by some wonderful acting by some relatively unknown actors. Jeremy Renner does an excellent job as the stoic but reckless Staff Sergeant William James as he goes about his dangerous job. He is supported by Sergeant J.T. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty), who cover him while he’s working on the devices.

There’s as much to be gleaned from the men’s interactions with one another as there is from the tense action on the screen.  This is in part because James has a totally different attitude to his team mates.  Whilst they are counting down the days till they can leave the operation zone, you get the distinct feeling from James that he doesn’t know how to do anything else, much less want to leave.  The brief shot of him at home with his family seems to indicate that he considers quiet suburbia as much of a nightmare as ordinary people would consider a battle zone.

The simplicity of such a drama could have been spoilt by some high-handed moralising but thankfully the focus is on the individuals and not on the conflict itself and avoids such clumsiness. As such it’s one of the tensest films that’s been released for a long time, a gripping and touching drama and one that is much more than a simple war movie.  Highly recommended.