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The Hurt Locker

Given the commercial failure of just about every film made about the Iraq war, it seems that the best way to encourage an audience to see The Hurt Locker might be by not mentioning its setting. And if you’ve avoided all of those other films because you didn’t want to sit through a political argument, you’re in the clear here: There are no arguments here for or against the war, or even anything to explain what’s going on, all of which is clear enough to anyone who has heard a newscast anytime in the past eight years. The Hurt Locker was written by Mark Boal, a reporter who in 2004 was embedded with a US Army bomb squad in Baghdad, and it details the daily work of men whose job it is to defuse the IEDs that littered Iraq during the heights of the insurgency. You may recall that in 2004 a day seldom passed without news of deaths from IEDs: Boal, who also wrote In the Valley of Elah, notes that 15 bombs were defused for every one that exploded. The Hurt Locker focuses on one squad, which consists primarily of the specialist whose job it is to study and disconnect the bomb and the pair of soldiers who cover him. Opening with a quote that “War is a drug,” the film is essentially a series of set pieces observing this squad on the job. If you can look at it dispassionately, it is a brilliant success simply as a procedural movie, a film that documents how an unusual task is performed. But as directed by Kathryn Bigelow, possibly the only female director to make a career almost totally in action films (Near Dark, Blue Steel, Point Break), this independently funded movie never lets you off the hook. We are always in the midst of the operation, always as confused by the setting as the soldiers we watch, never sure when the thing might explode. Without a lot of big-budget special effects—the explosions seen are real, never digitally concocted—Bigelow starts the film at a high level of tension and never lets it drop.

m. faust

Watch the trailer for The Hurt Locker

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