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Movie Review on “The Hurt Locker”

A sapper only errs twice:
The first time – when he chooses his profession.

Some crappy joke

He is a bad guy. He is always at the brink. He will never fall into existential doubt on which wire to cut – the red or the blue one. He’ll keep his retarded smile and remain cool even in the hottest crossfire because he’s all that and a bag o’ chips. Is he some sort of a superman? Hell no! He’s just an adrenalin-addicted Staff Sergeant war-geek serving his rotation term in the US combat engineering team in Iraq. His name is James. William James.

He is the main character of Kathryn Bigelow’s 2009 docudrama “The Hurt Locker” – the film that quite surprisingly gained the universal acclaim and became a multiple award-winner (including 6 Oscars in 2010) and thus gave a humiliating slap in the face of her ex-husband’s “Avatar”. Kathryn Bigelow is a world-renowned master of suspense and action, with such motion pictures as “Blue Steel”, “Point Break” and “K-19: The Widowmaker” in her director’s portfolio. Besides, in 2010 she became the first woman ever to receive the Oscar in “The Best Director” nomination.

“The Hurt Locker” was premiered at the Venice Film Festival back in 2008 where it was given a truly warm welcome. The whole audience stood and applauded Ms. Bigelow for 10 minutes. However, for quite a long time she could not find an appropriate film distributor in the USA, as the movie was feared to bring some unpleasant memories relating to the war in Iraq. That’s why it was initially shown in only four cinemas, but having quickly won the public recognition, it soon captured the screens of the whole America. And actually it contained no bad memories – just good, romantically haloed reflections on the American über-soldaten peace dukes fearlessly bringing universal values and democracy to those who need them the most…

In this regard, probably, the main secret of movie’s popularity lies in its simplicity and eye-appeal for an unsophisticated spectator who views cinema as nothing more than amusement and reiteration of the banal pseudo-humanistic truisms. And although one may say the setting deals with the largely abstract war in a largely abstract Near East country, all the same the “democracy-for-oil” story will reek strongly – no matter how hard we try to plug our noses and pretend we don’t see the obvious.

And as for the alleged “realism” of the film – this part starts to piss you off from the very beginning. Mark Boal, the scriptwriter and producer, is said to have received the first-hand knowledge of the combat engineers’ work specifics as he had been embedded as a journalist in 2004 with a US bomb squad in Iraq. Well, if you ask me, the whole “realism” here can be reduced to just two things: the abundant swearing and the film title itself. “The hurt locker” is the widely-used US Army slang-word referring to the protective suit the combat engineers wear on their missions. The subsequent 2-hour sequence has little to do not only with realism, but sometimes even with common sense itself. Just think by yourselves: will not a person, who has at least the nodding acquaintance with warfare and field operations specifics, be irritated with how carelessly W. James drags 7 landmines by the wires (btw, why are they connected by just 1 wire?) or by the totally absurd (though spectacular and almost perfectly cut) scene of the snipers’ duel. The latter deserves our additional attention: the Arab sniper with the SVD (!) quite easily takes off the British trooper with the .50 cal Barrett M82, but in order to make an aimed shot he has to stretch himself out of the window. The Briton’s “successor” doesn’t even change the position, but the Arab starts missing for some reason… But there’s more to it: another Arab who is supposed to cover the sniper, can’t even make a decision to open fire! What is he doing all this time? Trembling in awe before the dreadful US ministers of death in shiny armors? Perhaps.

Nevertheless, in my opinion, the film is worth watching just because of this scene alone, as there is nothing better in this world when the .50 cal bullet breaks into your chest, quickly and painlessly tearing off the remnants of your worthless soul and granting you the long-sought oblivion… And then it is the sunset, the abating heat and the buzzing flies that sing their ode to the day that’s burning down… Probably, this is what Jim Morrisson sang about: “…Bullet strikes the helmet’s head / And it’s all over / The war is over…”.

Finally, Ms. Bigelow fails to divulge the reasons of her character’s reckless behavior. From psychological point of view, such “death seekers” usually must have the complex background in the sense of existential or family drama. W. James has nothing of it at all: he has a family, a loving wife, a baby and (seemingly) the utmost faith in mankind. In this regard, to explain all character’s actions (and then project them on humanity as a whole) with his overall war addiction is absolutely inadequate, and…well, it just sucks, if you ask me.

On the other hand, what the film does really possess – is its suspense and the “presence effect” achieved by means of the flawless operator’s and editor’s work, which in this sense absolutely justifies two Oscars for the Best Picture and the Best Film Editing. As for the rest – they were just given out of political considerations.

Verdict: yet another US-glorifying and war-romanticizing pretentious propagandistic pseudo-docudrama. What the film dramatically lacks, is the contemplative and non-judgmental nature akin to the unquestionable masterpieces of the genre – F. Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now”, S. Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket” and to some extent O. Stone’s “Platoon”. Quite fortunately, it doesn’t deteriorate to the level of dung “Rambos” either. Just bearing this only fact in mind, we must deliver our prayers to God, grab the last of our back-breaking labour earned money and initiate a 2-hour wallowing in the barfed jobbing of the deceased world cinematograph.

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