The Hurt Locker (2008, DVD)

UPDATE March 7:  The Hurt Locker has just won 6 Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director.  CLICK HERE to read Oscar Results 2010.

UPDATE Feb. 21:  The Hurt Locker just won Best Picture at the BAFTA Awards (British Academy of Film and Television Arts). Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win Best Director.  “I would like to dedicate this to never abandoning the need to find a resolution for peace,” she said in her acceptance speech. Mark Boal won Best Original Screenplay.   CLICK HERE TO READ MORE.


With The Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow could well have shattered the stereotype of female filmmakers, if there even was an image established for them.  But a good guess is that they have generally been misconstrued as merely producers of romances, tear jerkers, simply put, ‘chick flicks’.  A look at Bigelow’s filmography shows a track record of action thrillers. But it’s with The Hurt Locker, a captivating work about a bomb disposal team in Iraq, that she has garnered floods of accolade.

Professor Martha Lauzen of San Diego State University studies women in the movie industry over the years.  She found that women represented only 9 per cent of Hollywood directors in 2008 – the same figure she had recorded in 1998.  In this male-dominated circle, Bigelow is only the fourth woman ever in the 82-year history of the Oscars to be nominated Best Director.  The other three were Lina Wertmuller (Pasqualino Settebellezze, 1975), Jane Campion (The Piano, 1993) and Sofia Coppola (Lost In Translation, 2003).  None of them won.

Recently, Bigelow made history by being the first woman to win the Director’s Guild Award with The Hurt Locker.  According to past trend, winners of the DGA usually went on to win the Oscar, with a few exceptions.  Bigelow could be making Oscar history as well comes March 7.  But of course, she has tough competition from her ex James Cameron.

The Hurt Locker focuses on an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team in Iraq in 2004.  In this urban guerrilla war zone, the signature weapon is the Improvised Explosive Device (IED), or, roadside bomb. What stands out in this film is the intense psychological tension captured by the camera, the excellent editing, and the poignant performance of the three specialists in the EOD team.  The nuanced playing out of their opposing psyche and the dynamics of their interactions are what fuel the riveting momentum.

Into this three-men EOD team the story zooms in on one character, Sgt. Will James (Jeremy Renner), bomb specialist, reckless maverick whose hubris and adrenalin cravings propel his dubiously heroic acts.  The quote at the beginning gives a hint of what is to come: “… war is a drug.”  Unlike other typical reactions to war, James embraces it.  The whole movie is a character study exploring such a psychological make-up.  And we are held on the edge of our seats as we follow the Dirty Harry of Baghdad clearing IED’s on the streets.

But the script excels in presenting a multi-layered character.  As the story progresses, we see a softer side to the tough bomb expert, and yet, all revealing is movingly restrained.  Renner’s performance is magically convincing.  He has me on his side as soon as he appears on screen.

Using relatively unknown actors, the film poignantly portrays the vulnerability of Everyman in the war zone. But they can’t be unknown anymore after this. Jeremy Renner (Sgt. Will James), Anthony Mackie (Sgt. Sanborn), and Brian Geraghty (Spc. Owen Eldridge) have left their impressive marks here. Pitching in, albeit for only short moments, are some more well-known actors, Ralph Fiennes, Guy Pearce and David Morse.

Impressively shot like a documentary, its every scene intense, drawing the viewer in like a participant, an onlooker. Great camera works, excellent editing, breath-taking pacing, and thoroughly human.

Unlike other war movies, there are few bloody scenes, no gratuitous war mongering or protesting. Bigelow in the special feature mentions that the film takes an apolitical, non-partisan stance.  Such a neutral, matter-of-fact depiction, focusing on the micro-level of three men handling the most dangerous job in the world, is no less powerful in conveying the danger, the sacrifice, and the courage needed to go through every single day in Iraq.  The film stands out among other war movies in its sensitive and sometimes even eloquent treatment of the raw emotions and the dynamics of personalities caught in a hurt locker.

The term ‘hurt locker’ refers to a situation of extreme pain and hardship.  The production itself could well illustrate the point.  Filmed on location in Jordan, cast and crew had to endure long hours in searing heat of 115 degrees, had to make do with scarce resources, and improvise in tough circumstances. It had been suggested that “no woman over 40 could possibly have the stamina to direct a feature film.” Overcoming such a sexist view is the challenge every woman director has to face.  Bigelow has proven herself to be admirably competent, crafting and delivering a superb production with an all male cast, (except a short appearance by Evangeline Lilly), in a land far from home.

The Hurt Locker ties with Avatar with 9 Oscar noms, including Best Picture and Best Director, but it gets nods in two categories that Avatar doesn’t, Best Actor and Best Writing, Screenplay written directly for the screen.

Jeremy Renner receives a Best Actor nod for his engrossing performance as Staff Sgt. William James.  A fusion of James McAvoy and Russell Crowe, Renner has proven himself to be a worthy contender in the Oscar race.

Mark Boal gets an Oscar nom for his very first screenplay.  This in itself is impressive, and a pointer to what makes a good piece of writing: write what you know.  His personal 2004 experience in Baghdad as an embedded journalist with a bomb squad is what makes the story, characters, and every single detail so real and poignant.

The DVD has some fascinating Special Features capturing the Behind The Scene moments, a Gallery, and commentaries from Bigelow and Boal.  Those who want to see the film before the Awards show will have to opt for the DVD. As a smaller, indie production, The Hurt Locker had only a short release in selective theatres.  Hopefully after March 7, it might get a chance to be put on the big screen again.  So, now you know who I root for comes Oscar night.

~ ~ ~ ½ Ripples



Click here for an insightful panel discussion on the movie, Spoiler Warning though, from Canada’s National Post.


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If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Creator of Ripple Effects, bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

10 thoughts on “The Hurt Locker (2008, DVD)”

  1. This is where the synchronicity of life is so uncanny: over the weekend, the last person I would imagine to have any interest in a less-than-mainstream film, mentioned this movie as a must-see. I thought of you as I picked my jaw up off the floor.
    Thank you for the wonderful review; now it’s on DVD, I might actually get to watch it.


    This is uncanny indeed… well, go on and heed the nudge. You’re welcome to come back and share your response after you’ve seen it.



  2. I saw bits of this film when Kathryn received her award and was immediately intrigued. Such a scary subject, but so necessary to be informed about.

    I missed that award show, the Director’s Guild Awards I suppose? But let’s hope she has a chance to get up to receive an Oscar… that’ll be one gratifying moment for her and her fans! You should get the DVD and see it before then… I’m sure you’ll find it thought-provoking.



  3. Arti, I generally stay away from war movies, but after reading your post I’m compelled to rent the DVD and watch it this weekend. Regardless of whether I’ll like the film, I’m already rooting for Kathryn Bigelow to win the best director award on Oscar night! Thanks for another great review.


    Hey, thanks for the support… wish I could pass it on to Kathryn Bigelow!



  4. The son of one of my cousins is in the green zone now, wearing army fatigues despite the fact that he’s navy and a pilot – I’m not sure what he’s involved in, but none of it is reassuring.

    Another friend who came back after a year-long tour talked about the explosive experts, and how dependent everyone is upon their skill and judgment.

    I remember when Lady Di became involved in land mine removal, and the stir that caused. It brought about some good, too, and this seems to be the kind of film that can sensitize people to some of these horrors without being overly political or simply too ghastly to watch.

    Thanks for the great review. I think this one will go on the list, too, for viewing when I get things “caught up” around here.

    By the way – I’ve decided Canada has one of the best national anthems going. I can’t remember ever hearing it before, but the Olympics has provided plenty of listening opportunities. It really is nice, and much easier to sing than ours!


    There are few gory and bloody scenes as in other war movies, but what’s disturbing is the beginning quote, which the whole movie rests upon. It’s not your typical war epic, definitely, but thought-provoking nonetheless.

    As for national anthems on the podium, I haven’t been following… only watched part of the opening ceremony. Just enjoying the exceptionally warm weather here in Western Canada, definitely not praying for snow here in Alberta. As far as musicality goes, I can’t judge. But in terms of how easy to learn, our anthem sure beats many.



  5. I just found Nuit Blanche If you haven’t seen it, I think you’ll like it – a very short film at just over four minutes, but compelling. I hadn’t heard of it but suddenly it’s everywhere. It’s quite different from The Hurt Locker.

    Nuit Blanche

    How interesting… thanks for introducing me to this short, shall I say film noir romantique Tarantino style… just exquisite. I can see you’re really into films now 🙂



  6. Hoorah for The Hurt Locker and Director Bigelow! Perhaps this award will tempt some other voters to look on her and the film more favorably.

    Yes, it’s exciting to see Kathryn Bigelow make history by winning BAFTA’s Best Director, the first woman to do so.



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