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Director: Kathryn Bigelow

The genre of American war films can be among the most predictable type of film on offer. They usually perpetuate a specific set of codes and conventions that are so familiar that even an uneducated audience can guess what will happen next and who will die first or soon. Quite often it easy to substitute the setting, geographical or historical, for a futuristic or urbane one, the end result being a similarly generic sci-fi or buddy-cop film. Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker defies these obvious stumbling blocks to become one of the greatest war films ever committed to screen.

A wary audience need not be concerned if they are not fans of this type of film. It rises above the patriotic, chest-beating, ‘USA’ chanting style of movie that makes an Aussie cringe and digs into the psyche of the soldier in a contemporary conflict. Comparisons to other war zone films are futile as it avoids the sensational silliness of Black Hawk Down or Saving Private Ryan but is a more important effort than The Thin Red Line, which taps into similar themes and ideologies. The futility of battle is an ultimate issue and there are aspects of the story which hark back to another truly great war film, Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, but this is an effort that stands alone.

Bigelow’s direction may not be comfortable for a mainstream audience, the (perhaps overuse of) Steadicam provides an almost documentary style that suits this modern conflict. This isn’t a celebration of a conventional war but an insight into the world of a bomb-squad in Iraq, a place where recent history suggests is a ruthless and dangerous place that evokes feelings of anger, invulnerability and paranoia out of its participants. The heroes are not our traditional ones but love heavy metal, strong alcohol, the thrill of the pursuit and the edginess of combat, which should ring true to a contemporary audience.

The opening title declaring “war is a drug” is subtly reinforced throughout and it is true of most narcotics: it feels good at the time but there are side effects that not only affect the addict but also loved ones as well.

While criticisms of the non-linear plot by mostly ignorant reviewers are potentially valid, it, conversely, is a feature if this film. The set-pieces are just intense and masterfully directed providing a further insight into the characters and the anonymity of the enemy in a zone such as this. The gripping brutality and viciousness of these sequences are balanced by several lighter, comedic moments, but the narrative never lets up.

The film’s concluding scenes highlight the ultimate ridiculousness of such a battle yet the juxtaposition of normality versus chaos are blatant and obvious.
This is a story, while unconventional, that needs to be told. In warzones where the Geneva Convention is largely ignored, the direction, narrative and characters mirror the very nature of the conflict.

It is debatable whether Bigelow deserves Best Oscar for Direction but this effort makes her ex-husband James Cameron’s Avatar (while impressive for what it is) look like Smurfs on acid fighting in a bullshit battle that pales in comparison as far as the work of an Auteur goes. Her manipulation of the crucial directorial tools of time and space provide some unforgettable moments and the consequential neo-realistic feel takes the audience inside the head and heart of these post-modern warriors.

This is a piece that deserves the critical acclaim that has, and will, come its way and ensures that The Hurt Locker will carve its niche among the finest war stories ever told.    







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