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The Hurt Locker (2008)

Summit Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 1/12/2010

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/8/2010

Since the dawn of man, there has been war. And, since the dawn of war, there have been war stories. These war stories, lead to war books which then gave way to war movies. Through the 1960s, war movies had a certain tone -- they weren't upbeat per se, but they focused on the positivity of heroism, and were definitely pro-American. However, the Vietnam War changed all of that. Beginnings in the 70s, the movies became darker and more negative. This trend has continued, as the focus moved from wars of the past to the present conflicts in the Middle East. We get another does of this in The Hurt Locker.

The Hurt Locker is set in Iraq in 2004. As the film opens, we are introduced to an EOD squad (EOD = Explosive Ordinance Disposal), which consists of James (Jeremy Renner), Sanborn (Anthony Mackie), and Eldridge (Brian Geraghty). Their job is to disarm and dispose of bombs which are found by military patrols or civilians. This job is particularly dangerous and itís important that it be done with the utmost care. James has recently taken over leadership of the group, and his style is slightly unorthodox. He ignores most safety protocols and takes a maverick approach to handling the bombs. In fact, Sanborn and Eldridge donít feel safe around him. However, he is very good at his job and his results speak for themselves. But, beneath that rugged, gung ho exterior, James takes it all very personally and must find ways to release the stress. As the end of their tour of duty comes closer, James behavior becomes more risky.

This is an interesting movie, as it combines different styles of filmmaking. Director Kathryn Bigelow made a name for herself with her highly stylized films. Movies like Point Break and Strange Days contain set-pieces where the movie becomes much more about the art of filmmaking than the story. We don't get that with The Hurt Locker. There are only a handful of shots in the film which have what can be considered any type of true artistic flare behind them (the best one being from the opening scene where the rocks seem to levitate during the explosion). Instead, the film is shot in a hand-held, documentary (almost guerilla style). This approach takes us into the action and captures many points of view. We are right there with James as he attempts to diffuse a bomb, but we also see the situation from the vantage point of Sanborn and Eldridge who can't quite see James and don't know what he's doing.

The movie also takes a specific approach to its story. Essentially there is no real plot here. We meet our three main characters and there is a reminder countdown of how many days that they have left. Outside of that, the film plays as a series of vignettes where we watch them go out on a mission, or we see them back at their base. Within these scenes, there is variety, as we witness the different kinds of things that this group does. They could be called out to take care of a bomb, to investigate an explosion which has already happened, or they could simply get caught in a cross-fire while trying to return to their base.

The problem with The Hurt Locker is that there simply isn't enough story here. We are only given the basics about who these soldiers are and what they are doing. We never learn much about anyone's back-story. This is incredibly frustrating, especially in the case of the James characters, as we want to know what makes them tick. We never learn how long they've been in EOD or why they chose that. The situations in which they are placed are never fully explained. Some would argue that this lack of information matches the documentary style, or the idea that the movie wants to replicate the experience of being there. I don't buy that, as a documentary would certainly want to explain what was happening, and if I was there, I would have more information than I have now.

Having said that, The Hurt Locker is still a very well-crafted film (I just don't think that it's Best Picture worth). While it would be wrong to classify this as an action movie, it certainly contains some suspenseful and shocking scenes. The scenes with the bombs are very intense and as we learn early on the destructive force of these devices, we cringe when James goes to work on one. I also liked the scenes where we see James react to the horrors around him. It's good to know that he isn't a robot -- but, I would have liked to have seen more of this. It's also interesting that The Hurt Locker doesn't have a political slant. While the soldiers remark that they don't like it there and want to go home, there is never any questioning of why they are there and no pro or con views from the filmmakers. These guys are simply doing their jobs. As for the title, to me the hurt lock will also be the place where John Spartan was going to put Simon Phoenix.

The Hurt Locker blows up on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Summit Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 31 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing on defects from the source material. The picture shows noticeable grain, but this is most likely a stylistic choice, as it ties into the documentary look and gives the movie a sense of realism. The colors look very good and they are quite natural. The movie gets a bit dark in some of the night-time scenes, but again, this is a result of the film's overall look. The level of detail is very good here, and we can see every pockmark on the actor's faces. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. OK, let's get this out of the way -- this track has the loudest LFE channel that I've ever heard. From the outset, the subwoofer was rocking and I actually had to reduce the volume because a mirror was in danger of falling off of the wall. Given this, you can correctly infer that the explosions in the film are very powerful. The stereo effects are very good as well and are nicely detailed. The surround sound effects are constant, from the various street noise to the jets which fly overhead. The fantastic audio mix helps to draw us into the film.

The Hurt Locker Blu-ray Disc contains three extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Kathryn Bigelow and Writer Mark Boal. "The Hurt Locker: Behind the Scenes" (13 minutes), while brief, is a fairly satisfying making of. We get comments from Bigelow and Boal, as well as most of the cast. They discuss the story and the charcter. There is then a look at the shooting conditions, the explosion effects, and a profile of Bigelow as a director. The final extra is an "Image Galley" (23 minutes) which one can view while listening to a Q&A with Boal and Bigelow. This is an interesting approach (reminds me of the filmstrips we used to watch in elementary school) and we get a decent amount of information here.

Review Copyright 2010 by Mike Long