I was gripped from the opening seconds of Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker about an elite Army bomb squad whose main job is to defuse roadside bombs. The film uses suspense masterfully to suggest the tension and fear of the soldiers’ tasks. For them, every pile of garbage could be an IED and every corner could hide an insurgent. At times the tension was almost too much for me to watch but my eyes remained glued to the screen. I was particularly affected by the climax of the film in which the squad fails to defuse the chain of bombs strapped to an Iraqi man, even though he was desperate for their help.
The performances in the film are generally strong and unsentimental. Although most of the main actors were unfamiliar to me, the film does have cameos by some of my favourite performers such as Guy Pearce and Ralph Fiennes (Fiennes also worked with Bigelow in Strange Days, another film which I liked a lot). Perhaps suggesting the realities of war, these stars only appear briefly before they are killed.
To me, Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker was a far superior film than her ex-husband’s production, Avatar. Although Cameron’s vision of Pandora was impressive [I will post my review of the film here later], I was more moved by the Middle East setting of The Hurt Locker: the heat, the sand, the sweat, and the feeling that despite all of their technology and military power the American soldiers were trapped by their situation. These all felt very authentic and sincere.
After the film, I was uncertain what exactly the term ‘Hurt Locker’ refers to. There were a couple of things which I thought may have been the referents, including the anti-bomb suit that one of the soldiers wears or the suit of bombs which the Iraqi man in the climax is forced to wear. However, according to various websites, the term means to cause pain to someone. If so, this was an apt title for the movie — The Hurt Locker was a punch to the viewers’ stomach.