There is a lot of chatter about The Hurt Locker and whether director Kathryn Bigelow will serve up a feast of schadenfreude by besting ex-husband and douche James Cameron at the Oscars this year. Despite not having seen Avatar just yet, I did sit down to watch The Hurt Locker last night and was blown away (no pun intended).
Bigelow has a rather short resume as far as movie-making goes, though she did direct two notables in the 1990s: Strange Days, a cautionary tale of the merging of technology and fantasy that headlined the always fabulous Angela Bassett, and Point Break, the awesomely bad, infinitely quotable action flick about an undercover cop who solves a bank robbery and learns the power of surfing. Nevertheless, Bigelow has a winner on her hands with The Hurt Locker, a story revolving around three bomb-squad specialists in Iraq and their long, slow descent to psychological breakdown.
The primary characters are a team who disarm IEDs protected by little more than their own swagger, and who learn to embrace the unease of the constant adrenaline rush they need to power through crisis. What makes this movie much different than most war movies is that its storytelling lies in the quiet moments. Despite the subject matter there aren’t a lot of explosions, action sequences, or gunfire. Instead there is the shot of the injured cat limping across the street, or the endless strings of wires leaking from piles of rubble, or the long shots of a vast desert where gunfire appears to come from nowhere. The tension and despair are palpable, especially in the relationships between the soldiers and the Iraqis — some of whom may be going about their daily business and some who may be responsible for the bombs in the first place — and their mutual inability to trust one another’s decency.
The movie is weak in places, the end in particular, but it seems this is because Bigelow didn’t want to wax political or offer too many easy solutions. It does not glorify war, and in fact posits that war makes it harder for one to make and maintain functional human connection. One of the most compelling issues raised in the story is the need to cope with sorrow, illustrated in that the soldier whose experience of war is expressed in the most rational, healthy way is considered a liability to the team.
I’ll be disappointed if this one gets shut out of the Oscars like it did the Golden Globes because Bigelow has a real chance of snagging an Academy Award for Best Director, which would be the first win in this category ever for a woman. It also holds the distinction of humanizing traditionally stereotypical, macho subject matter, and being a war movie that is good without glorifying violence.