Best Picture Profile: The Hurt Locker

Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow

Company: Summit Entertainment

Runtime: 131 minutes

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The film is about Sergeant First Class William James, a war soldier, who is the new leader of the Bravo Company of a bomb disposal team to replace Staff Sergeant Thompson, who was killed in an explosion while they were doing their routine job of defusing bombs. The members of the Bravo Company includes Sergeant Sanborn and Specialist Eldridge.

As they start their routine of disposing bombs planted all over the city of Baghdad, James started to do things that serve his adrenaline rush but ultimately distracts the mission for the team. Even then, he still does his job successfully. However, Sanborn and Eldridge thinks that he is careless and that he may cause their deaths. Especially complaining about his attitude is Sanborn, who just wants do the job straight and wants everything to be safe. Sanborn and James form a tension between them, with Eldridge on the neutral side.

The film focuses on the several missions that the company do in the course of more or less, thirty days. In the end, James finds himself to be looking for his adrenaline-filled life in Baghdad, and as he does, he returns to his job, now serving in the Delta company for 365 days.

The screenplay is all-around great. The plot is character-driven, and that, for me, is the biggest challenge that it was able to live up on. It focuses not on a plot line with the conventional plot-driven stories. What we see here is life. We are being driven into this whole two-hour movie with events in the lives of these soldiers on a 3o-day basis. There is a repetitive structure used by the film which always fascinates me, because even if they are all bomb defusing, each of those scenes are so different. Also, it maintains a cohesive flow of events that you can easily follow a story. Also, it thrills me having the characters lead because the characters themselves are filled with meat in them. These are the people who, more or less, we will see when we are there.

The screenplay is rich in character and the characters are filled with reality. We don’t just see soldiers, we see normal people who have their own lives before they were sent in his place. For example, Sanborn’s character. He seems to be the most aggressive in the team in terms of the reaction to James’ actions in their job. But through its subtle but ultimately direct tackling of the character, we understand it because he doesn’t want to be there. He wants to live normally with a child and with a wife. He’s afraid to die without even doing that, without having the taste of having your own family. He may be verbally harsh at times, but because he is determined to live. We understand that because of the rich characterization that it does to its three main characters.

Take Eldridge’s character. He seems to be the one in the middle of them. In a way, he is the softer spot of the trio. But he’s no weak man. He is gentle enough that we care for him because he seems to be the one to care for the both of them. He seems to be very dependent to others when they do their job, but that is not a sign of his weakness. That is his way of defending himself from the danger that he knows is near him. He does his best to do his job. But he’s afraid to do that because he’s afraid of losing his life or other’s life. Actually, Eldridge is the only character in the trio that is full of characteristic hints. There’ s no much exposition for him, but he is given the right dialogue, and he’s got full character development.

Now, take James’ character. In two words, you can make a stereotype out of him: adrenaline junkie. But actually, James is more than that. He is unstable, and his family life is actually a big suffering for him. His job is his way of escaping that. He wants to excite himself by doing things that could almost kill him because he doesn’t have anything to lose. He considers marriage to be unpleasant, as it shows when he placed his wedding ring in the box of stuff that almost killed him. It could be funny for the two, and it could be his way to make them laugh, but he is serious about it. He almost think that it is mistake. When he returns home, it is simply painful for him to live that life. He wants to open up what is inside him to release some tension, but his ex-wife ignores it. He cannot stand to suppress his emotions, so he uses his job as a way to release all of it. In the end, I find his actions justified by the events.

One more thing about the screenplay is that it was able to create a smooth flowing story with all those pieces of days that the characters went through. None of the events presented move the plot, but it develops a lot in the characters. The events go naturally, but each one makes a difference on the characters, and that is jut great.

The direction is note-perfect. Its handling of the subject, given the character-driven plot it has, was magnificent. The direction just brings you in there because of its way of presenting the setting. We have some very interesting details that, although may seem useless at first, add up to the creation of the atmosphere in the film. It is full of intellect, but it never forgets to involve us in this rough trip. It has the guts to present us these scenes in a very tense film that sometimes, the tension is just unbearable. Take the first scenes as examples. It starts immediately on the job. We see shots of the people running, the point-of-view of the robot they used, the people watching, the panicking soldiers, and all of these are filled with paranoia. And after all of these, we are now immersed in the whole setting. We now had a glimpse of this world in a very few minutes. And those were not just expository scenes. It already progresses the plot.

Aside from that, what really fascinated me is on how the direction used very minute details to serve the film’s progressive plot. We see a cat with a sprained leg. What does it really matter? Does it connect to the plot? In a sense, no. But through the work enforced in these characters through the masterful direction, that single shot serves a big metaphor in the lives of these characters. And I really do not want to make an issue about gender, as it doesn’t really matter to talk about, but could you really imagine a woman direct this hell of a motion picture? This is not a sexist statement, or question, but with all these masculinity in it, in terms of the characters and the plot, it’s just so amazing.

The cinematography is intensely creative. The whole film looks raw. It immerses you into a bomb-filled Baghdad with all these shots that are just so overwhelming to see. The feeling is like it is going to pop in your eyes, that the events feel so like that you can be there. What struck me the most in terms of comparison with other movies because some movies uses 3-D to evoke a sense of reality, and yet, this 2-D film feels much more authentic than those films. It doesn’t use fake imagery or conventional shots. As a matter of fact, there are only a handful of steady shots, for they always move. But those hand-held cameras never gets irritating, unlike many recent films that tends to over-use it. Not this. It feels like a visceral cinematography without forgetting the intellect. It just holds your breath and never lets go of it.

The editing is masterful. It was able to put these shots all in these one rough ride but definitely smooth-flowing story. All of these shots are so great, but to edit all of these to make a 2 hour film must be a horror. The different perspectives taken in the bomb disposal scenes are so wonderfully compressed into a scene that I, as an amateur filmmaker, cannot really grasp the intelligence behind it. It can make a dramatic situation in an instant, then thrilling at the next, but the technique simply goes as genuine as a film can get. But, what about those slow shots of very small details? The rising rocks, the shaking cars, a soldier slowly flying, the slow fall of the bullet, where did it all come from? Of course, it would be entirely insignificant, but with those surprisingly cliche-free slow motion scenes, we see these details that build up this world. It’s just great, really great.

The sound is remarkable. It wasn’t just because of the gunshots, or the bomb explosions, it’s really because of the specifications embedded into this storytelling marvel. Those robot scenes at the start are filled with sound creativity that the sound clings in your ears. And when the sound reaches its peak of usage in the film, the tension it creates is just unbearable and you almost get a heart attack in that. And what adds up to the sensation of it is that when the bomb exploded, it goes for a quiet moment while we witness the effects of the explosion. We cannot fully hear the loud explosion, but we see hear the rise of the rocks, the shaking of the car, and then later, we just hear the real explosion. It’s really a terrific job.

The music is powerful. It’s not a musical score that I would like to listen for luxury, as it is not so delicious to hear, but when you place is it in the film, it is a perfect fit for it. It creates hopelessness, tension, peril, everything that the movie needs. I’m not saying that it’ unremarkable, I just don’t really have the words to say about this perfectly fitted musical score for this film. Rest assured, it’s one of the best of the year.

The acting is intense, just like the movie.

We have all of these wonderful cameos from great actors – Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes, David Morse – all creating vivid characters that never lets their roles be limited to their small times. Each create a living human being and serves as foundations of this war den.

Brian Geraghty provides a very strong performance as Eldridge. He seems to be the one who always stops Sanborn and James when they want to fight. It’s him that makes the remarks of worry. It’s him that always seem to be having the on-the-job attitude like, he’s very obedient and nice. And it’s all played well by Geraghty. He’s the character with the least revealed details, but he makes us understand the character’s motivations in the film. Maybe, way back home, he was a momma’s boy, if not a rich momma’s boy. It’s not directly mentioned in the film, and I somewhat doubt my conclusion about him, but he performs Eldridge with such mixture of gentleness and attention that he gives us a backstory without making it all obvious.

Anthony Mackie equates the level of achievement that Geraghty was able to attain. He’s a tough guy, but as what I have said a while ago, it is because of his will to live. But he’s more than that. He’s approachable when you don’t mess with him. Mackie makes Sanborn a character that you could understand simply because he’s more than a tough guy. He’s tough because he needs to be and his job demands him to be tough. He can laugh because something is funny, he’s not a stone. And he knows so much about it that he doesn’t want things to be screwed up when they do their job. He wants a life far away from the kill zone. And what struck me the most in Mackie’s performance is his final scene, expressing his intense vulnerability. He doesn’t want to die there, and he knows that every time they go out for a mission, it’s a gamble. He understands it, and the tears running out in his eyes are not fake. It’s a surreal moment, for he started baring the things that he have been hiding for the whole film. It’s a fantastic turn for him.

Jeremy Renner is a ticking time bomb of emotions. His performance is so restrained that cannot simply get an Oscar clip in it. It is an embodiment of a role of a person demented by the war. He’s not a newbie in this. He seems very relaxed, and when he does his job, he almost seems to be so comfortable with it. He’s a damaged soul, a victim of the war. And he has been loaded with adrenaline. He’s not necessarily happy about that, but he’s better in the working ground than to be stuck in his house back home which simply depresses him. He needs to release the emotional tensions inside him tat he does his job, because at home, nobody really cares for him. But it is no way a showy performance. It’s mostly a physical performance, but Renner never forgets the emotional and psychological baggage his character carries. His performance is the perfect understatement of a “trapped person doing what he doesn’t want to do to do what he really wants to do.” It’s a very complicated character in paper, but Renner attacks the character with confidence and mastery that he knows the tics of his character, making his performance so unpredictable. I guess he didn’t get a lot of wins last year because of how subtle his work here is. Even then, he does the unimaginable by making us care to this very complex character.

The whole film is a great piece of morality study. It’s not in any way preachy, nor it never tried to show the horrors of war in your face. ht e move lets us use our intellect to see these characters, and there, we see where the real damage of war is. The damage is not always on what we see, it’s more on what we feel to those involved. The film never makes us feel stupid for it to preach us, but it exposes to us what is happening and how does people react to it, in the most realistic way. It’s an impressive work.

For this, the movie gets:

What are your thoughts, dear reader?

Note: Results will be posted later this day. 🙂

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One thought on “Best Picture Profile: The Hurt Locker

  1. I thought it was a good effort for sure, at moments very strong. I thought the use of Ralph Fiennes and Guy Pierce was actually distracting to the film. A few moments I thought were a little forced such as the first bomb disposing with Renner, I thought had a little cliched nature to it. But I feel these are minor problems in a other wise strong film.

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