I expected a passable war film. What I got was, in the words of Joe Hill’s tweet, “a cool-blooded character study.” Oh, The Hurt Locker can be an action flick if you’d like—though the ‘action’ is a necessary byproduct of its subject matter. If things blow up and people get shot, it’s not because John McClain is on the loose. There are no bad guys.
Instead, these are faceless killers who want to do very awful things to people. Like blow them up. The film doesn’t try to weave an escalating plot. It sidesteps formula for a more human touch: it is a patchwork of fearsome missions designed to test their resolve. Jeremy Renner as the man in the bomb suit takes center stage as the cool blooded risk taker. As in Scorsese’s nearly plotless “Bringing Out the Dead”, it is enough that he do his miserable job, while the “why” of why he does it is slowly revealed.
Revealed, but never explained. Every moment in The Hurt Locker is an exercise in understated pathos. Detail is treated with such direct crystal clarity, we may be forgiven if we don’t notice them.
This is punctuated in the movie’s final moments, a sudden departure from the ruins of Iraq and into civilian life in the States. To those who question the restlessly shaky camera, and why the editing is the way it is, the scenes in America provide an explanatory antithesis to the queasy style. The poetic final shot, with its man in a bomb suit walking down a deserted alleyway, is elliptical in how it evokes the very first scene.
This is a good “war movie”, but an even greater character study and technical marvel if you know where to look. Mark my words, friend, this is genuine Oscar bait.