The Hurt Locker Review

The rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug.
Chris Hedges

Kathryn Bigelow is often typecast as an “action” director, and one female director unafraid to take on very “male” subject matter. There’s some truth in this, but look closer and you’ll see a feminist slant – most notably in Blue Steel but also in Angela’s Bassett’s character in Strange Days. Some have seen a subversive intent in the over-the-top machismo of Point Break. But you couldn’t get much more “male” in subject matter than The Hurt Locker. A portrayal of an American bomb-disposal squad in Iraq, as the opening epigraph makes clear it’s a study of men in a war zone. For all the danger, for all the maiming and death (of Iraqi civilians as well as colleagues) for men like Staff Sergeant Will James (Jeremy Renner) war is a drug, and he is hooked. The film begins with the above epigraph, which fades out to just the last four words. James is scared for his life, not knowing if he will still be alive at the end of each day, but this fear is an adrenalin rush he needs to function. At home, in between tours of duty, he is lost, ill at ease.

The Hurt Locker followed six years on from the expensive flop of K-19: The Widowmaker. Working on a smaller budget and deliberately eschewing Hollywood gloss, Bigelow seems like a director invigorated. The Hurt Locker is structured around half a dozen bomb-disposal scenes, which Bigelow maintains at pressure-cooker intensity. They include a “body bomb” – explosives packed into the chest cavity of a corpse – and an unnerving late sequence involving a man with explosives strapped to his chest and held there with case-hardened steel…and just a few minutes on the timer.

For all the incident, there’s not a great deal of plot in the conventional sense – in Robert McKee terms Mark Boal’s script is a miniplot, with changes occurring within the character instead of to him. Characterisation isn’t in-depth in any kind of literary sense; instead, these men are presences more than characters, and it’s a credit to the work of a largely unknown cast that they come to life to the extent that they do. The more well-known actors in the cast are in smaller roles, namely David Morse, Guy Pearce and Ralph Fiennes.

It’s the small details that make an impression: dust lifting off car roofs as bombs explode, cats limping through rubbish. In this she is aided by the camerawork of Barry Ackroyd, no stranger to documentary-style filmmaking through his regular work with Ken Loach. The sound design adds considerably to the film’s impact. One of the best films of the year.


The Hurt Locker is released on DVD by Lionsgate, in a dual-layered disc encoded for Region 2 only. There is also a Blu-ray edition, reviewed by Clydefro Jones here. The disc begins with trailers for Crank 2: High Voltage, Tenderness and Drag Me to Hell.

The film was shot in a ratio of 1.85:1, making this the first Bigelow film since Blue Steel not to have been shot in Scope. The transfer is faithful to the yellowish, sandy look that Bigelow and Ackroyd employ in the daytime exteriors. Darker scenes look just right too, with solid blacks. This is just what you should expect for a DVD transfer from a HD master of a brand new film. There’s a fair amount of grain, but that’s in keeping with the documentary look and it’s also what I remember from seeing this film in the cinema earlier this year.

The soundtrack is Dolby Digital 5.1. This is a major part of the film and is considerably immersive with much use of directional sound. As you might expect from the film’s subject matter, the subwoofer is brought into play quite a few times, in particular in one explosion towards the end of the film. Hard-of-hearing subtitles are available for the feature but not the extras.

The disc is somewhat light on extras. There is no commentary, but instead we have a making-of featurette.(12:01), which is standard EPK stuff, including interviews with Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal and most of the principal cast. The other extra is a set of interviews with cast members.Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty, David Morse, Guy Pearce and Jeremy Renner, totalling 5:59.

9 out of 10
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