The Hurt Locker (2008)

Just another day in Iraq...

Just another day in Iraq…

The 2010 Oscars was a weird one as it was the year it had to choose between some of the most controversial movies when giving out awards. Notably, Precious was nominated for six awards, winning two. Now, The Pop Culture Historian finally checked out the biggest controversy of them all: Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker.

The Hurt Locker follows three soldiers of a bomb disposal unit in Bravo Company as their time in Iraq comes to a close. The team’s original leader was killed in action, and he was replaced by Staff Sergeant Will James (Jeremy Renner), who appears to have a bit of an adrenaline addiction.

The Hurt Locker is an extremely good-looking movie. It featured some absolutely top-notch cinematography, making the desserts look surprisingly appealing. In addition, you have some terrific acting and a nice, haunting soundtrack written by Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders. From a purely technical perspective, The Hurt Locker did everything right.

The problem lies in what is the most important aspect of every movie: the story. Our three characters are SSG James, the adrenaline junkie, SGT Sanborn (Anthony Mackie), the by-the-book NCO, and SPC Eldridge (Brian Geraghty), a soldier who is strongly feeling the psychological effects of having been in war for as long as he was. Our three heroes then hop onto their Humvee and trot around Iraq while disposing bombs.

Despite the fact that The Hurt Locker actually won an Oscar for the best original screenplay, to me it seemed to have many of the same issues Lie (which was a student film) did. It completely eschewed the idea of a three-act structure, and not in a creative way. The movie seemed to have no idea where it wanted to take itself. Our heroes just go from one dangerous situation to another.

As a result, character development really suffered. SPC Eldridge carries the survivor’s guilt of his first team leader’s death while SSG James goes vigilante to avenge an Iraqi boy’s death. The problem is that neither of these subplots ended. They just sort of stopped.

The reason The Hurt Locker really faltered as a war movie in my mind was the lack of human moments. One of the best parts of HBO’s Band of Brothers was seeing the soldiers interacting with each other and just being normal people whenever they weren’t in combat. Similarly, Full Metal Jacket succeeded for everything that ever happened that wasn’t directly combat-related. Even Saving Private Ryan, which World War II veterans agree is the most realistic movie you probably can put to film, was more concerned about its characters even while it was showing us horrifying battle scenes. The Hurt Locker didn’t really give us a chance to see its people act like people, and consequently I found myself having a really hard time caring about any of them.

Somehow, I’m under the impression The Hurt Locker was originally supposed to be a much longer movie, but was edited down to keep it as close to two hours long as possible. Maybe that is how the character development was supposed to have been conveyed. Nonetheless, I can only review what was actually released.

Having seen Zero Dark Thirty, I know Kathryn Bigelow is a good director; however, I agree with many people (especially veterans of the Iraq war) that, as a result of how poorly researched it was (seriously, three guys doing a whole squad’s job of a bomb disposal?) and how its pacing was all over the map, that it is the worst Best Picture Oscar winner I have seen to date, possibly even beating Titanic. Ok, I lied. Titanic is still the worst Best Picture winner I have ever seen, but The Hurt Locker comes close.

Score: 2/4

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