Review: THE HURT LOCKER (2009) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Review: THE HURT LOCKER (2009)

RATING: 2.5/5

After scoring low with back-to-back disappointments of K:19 - THE WIDOWMAKER and THE WEIGHT OF WATER (both released in 2002), Kathryn Bigelow's long-awaited return to the director's chair sees her back in a near top form. 

Winner of 4 awards (Human Rights Film Network, SIGNIS, Sergio Trasatti and Young Cinema) at 2008 Venice Film Festival, Bigelow's THE HURT LOCKER is first and foremost a raw, gripping and well-mounted action thriller, and an intimate character-driven study of the daily routine of bomb disposal technicians. The only shame is this would-be perfect film is crippled by its unnecessarily overlong narrative (clocking at 130 minutes) with a plot that is rather slim and uneven. 

The film opens spectacularly with lead bomb disposal technician Sergeant Matt Thompson (Guy Pearce), trying to defuse hidden bombs buried somewhere in the ruins at an open area but fails to accomplish his mission and instantly killed on the spot. After the demise of Sergeant Matt Thomson, rebellious Staff Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner) is called in to take over as the head of the EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) squad stationed in Baghdad. Thus, there goes James' 38-days job countdown with his fellow colleagues, Sergeant JT Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) in their Bravo Company's rotation. But upon the first duty, Sanborn and Eldridge has already feel an uneasy alliance over James' stubborn behavior. Still James manage to get his job done, even sometimes without a proper job protocol. To his fellow colleagues, James is like a suicidal, walking timebomb who doesn't blink a second about whether he make it alive or not when defusing any bombs. Day by day, the pressure between James and his fellow colleagues gets higher and higher against each other, as well as increasingly dangerous duty one after another. Things get out of hand when a native 12-year-old boy called himself as Beckham (Christopher Sayegh), a pirated DVD seller whom James has befriended is presumably brutally murdered and turned into a human bomb, James  breaks protocol and willing to risk his own life to find out the truth about the matter. 

As a slice-of-life drama about how a specialized military group of bomb disposal technicians going through their dangerous daily routines, Mark Boal's script has particularly nail that target well. It's just too bad he have to resort into stretching his rather thinly-drawn narrative which should have been excised instead. The second half is especially where the film gradually losing steam. 

Still, the film remains a first-rate triumph in its technical prowness and of course, Bigelow's ever-skillful direction in helming action genre. Here, she and cinematographer Barry Ackroyd brilliantly incorporates handheld cameras and her trademark of intimate shot of slow-motion is seamlessly crafted with such nailbiting tension that will keep the audience on the edge of their seats. On the plus side, the absence of a score in key scenes is smart enough to give the already-heightened sense of action-packed moments an additional sense of documentary-like gritty realism. 

On the acting front, a trio of performances excel with top-notch acting moments: Jeremy Renner's devil-may-care, gung-ho Sergeant William James is no doubt his most breakthrough performance to date. Not only that, he also brings a certain complexity in his heroic and perfectly flawed character that we actually root for him. Equally credible and memorable as well are Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty. Cameo appearances from some of the better-known actors also shined in their respective roles given -- Guy Pearce, David Morse and Ralph Fiennes are all memorable in their brief performances that doesn't feel like stunt casting at all. 

Though the film is hardly a classic for an Iraqi-set military thriller by any means, it remains a worthwhile cinematic experience. Best of all, it's good to see the long-missed Kathryn Bigelow back in her usual game that put most of her male counterparts to shame.

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