Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Hurt Locker

Three things should have prepared me to dislike The Hurt Locker. First, a trusted friend gave it the thumbs down. Second, it won the Oscar for Best Film. Third, director Katherine Bigelow thanked the “men and women in uniform” twice at the Academy Awards – and failed to mention the people of Iraq.

Nevertheless, I went along with some anticipation. Bigelow had directed two of my favourite Hollywood films in the 1990s, Point Break and Strange Days. Media reviews seem to have been unanimously positive. At the very least I expected a piece of sustained, suspenseful drama.

Unfortunately, The Hurt Locker peaks in the opening scene. The intent is clearly to ratchet up the tension with each bomb that needs defusing, but in fact it ebbs away. James’ motivation is a mystery (the closest to an explanation we get is the opening quote: “war is a drug”) and his recklessness with the lives of others makes him rather unsympathetic. Attempts at character development – playing soccer with the Iraqi kid, drinking and wrestling with his team members – seem clich├ęd.

In short, if he doesn’t care whether he blows himself up, why should I?

Politically, the film has little overt to say beyond “it’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it”. The possibility that the American occupation is the root problem in Iraq – or that the resistance is justified – is not touched upon. This might be a stretch, but the underlying metaphor seems to be that of a crazy American who is just trying to help.

Hopefully Paul Greengrass’ The Green Zone will have something more substantial to say.

1 comment:

Alphonse said...

Agree with what you say, but I still enjoyed it. May be it's because I went to it without absolutely no expectations, many months before the Oscars shortlist was even announced.

What I didn't like about it was that it was so insidiously pro-Iraq war. I remember reviews saying it was great - and Bigelow agreeing - because it didn't take sides. But that's not true. It did take sides. And that side was hailing the all-American heros just crazy enough to take on the crazy (evil) terrorists. Bigelow gave the game away with her Oscars speech.