The Hurt Locker (Blu-ray)
Many action films have drafted a bomb-diffusing scenario in which our hero has to cut a wire and save the day. These situations can be humorous, sad, intense or any other range of emotions, depending on what the tone of the film is. The first 70 minutes of THE HURT LOCKER is basically a collage of bomb-diffusing scenes. The difference, of course, is that the “hero” is grounded in reality and if something goes boom, everyone is going to die. The bomb diffusing scenes in THE HURT LOCKER are filmed exceptionally well and are easily some of the best in film history. Unfortunately, director Kathryn Bigelow forgot one important thing; character development.
In order for us to really get into the action and to sweat it out with our heroes, we needed to really care about their plight. Apart from the normal concern we all have for our troops overseas, we just didn’t have much emotional investment in the characters. I mention the 70 minute mark because that was the first time we learned anything about anyone in the film. We knew early on that SSgt William James (Jeremy Renner) was a wild man, Sgt. JT Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) was just trying to get home and Spc. Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) was the kid trying to pull it together. All of your standard war movie clichés are represented, but they’re wrapped together nicely in this. Each of them had some deeper issues but we didn’t start cracking them open until 70 minutes into the film. At which time, many of the most intense scenes had already taken place.
The other issue with the film is that there is no mission. Yes, I’m fully aware of the horrible and unsafe job our bomb squad troops face every day, but if Mark Boal (screenwriter) had wrapped their job around a specific mission (BLACK HAWK DOWN or SAVING PRIVATE RYAN for example) we could have been more involved in the story. Instead, it was like Groundhog Day where every day is the same. They go out, diffuse some bombs, get drunk and repeat. I’m sure that’s close to what really happens, but it’s not enough to make an excellent movie. There’s a scene late in the second act where SSgt James sneaks off base that was completely anticlimactic. It served to further the development of James, but given the time it took up and the emptiness of the scene, it felt completely unnecessary.
One of the themes that was advertised for the film was the idea that “war is addictive”, which is represented by SSgt James. This is an outstanding theme and one that I’ve found is true with troops that have served multiple tours. We feel that come through at the end and can infer it with James’ actions, but the filmmakers missed a great opportunity to really explore that hidden aspect of war by not developing it further.
But as awards season comes around, THE HURT LOCKER is being thrown out there as a favorite to grab a Best Picture nomination. As a film, I can’t argue. The acting was amazing in how natural and believable all the characters were. The cinematography and set designs were top-notch and Bigelow did a fantastic job with some of her choices. My problem is the story, or lack thereof and some good war moments couldn’t make up for that.
Video: The Widescreen, 1.78 aspect ratio is presented beautifully on Blu-ray. Bigelow used a soft, gritty, grainy film texture, presumably to show the “dirtiness” of war. But there are several really dark scenes in the film and the black levels shine through very nicely.
Audio: The DTS-HD soundtrack is nice, but I did feel like it lacked just a tad. Bigelow was creative in how she showed different explosions and the ensuing debris that would fly around. I expected more use of the surround speakers and better utilization of the subwoofer. That said, it’s still a nice track.
Commentary with Kathryn Begelow and Mark Boal: This is a good commentary in that they have a lot to say and keep it rolling. They focus a lot on the character profiling and telling the story of these characters and, of course, I disagreed with their success in accomplishing that. I think they should have focused more on the research that went into the film and some of the people the encountered along the way, but they stuck more to the technical aspects of making a film, which is fine.
The Hurt Locker: Behind the Scenes (12:36): This is your typical behind the scenes featurette with cast and crew members talking about the movie as scenes from it are spliced in. Everyone speaks in generalizations (war is bad, war is chaos, etc.) and no real insight is offered into the film.