We think The Hurt Locker not only deserved its six Oscars, but is one of the best war films ever made. Sparse, with the excitement of a thriller, but often replacing big noise and big feeling music with ambient sound, its documentary style is wonderfully un-manipulative. There are no Rides of the Valkerie, no aching violins, as young men are shredded in slow motion, by deliciously explosive gunfire. But the tension is agonising, at times, and the pity of war clear too, along with its excitement and meaning, as we follow the exploits of a bomb disposal unit in Iraq.
Here nastiness goes on on both sides, not mined with a shovel, but glanced at as almost normal in war, but its effect in showing the horror of war too is just as real. The moment a body bomb steps into the scene, you are revolted by what is possible, but the reversal of that later, exposing the fog of war, is done quite brilliantly. At every turn it avoids cliché, or the obvious. Through that, and participating so intimately in the first hand action, you are almost completely on the US soldiers’ sides, as men bonded in action naturally become. They are the flawed heroes and their humanity and vulnerability is underlined throughout.
Ralph Fiennes’s brief appearance as a mercenary is suitably understated, in a desert fight that is agonising and utterly convincing, but the acting stars go straight to Jeremy Renner. The Hurt Locker becomes not only his bomb suit, of course only there to keep a body together under impact, but the diffused devices he keeps under his army bed too, the triggers to what might have been. What he has to live with and survive daily. There comes the revelation of the other hurt in the background, a marriage and a kid back home. Another kind of ‘real life’. The film’s tension, humanity and understatement was perhaps tripped up by the Stepford Wives element at the end, because it is implicit, but it does not matter, and in the calendar countdown throughout, you begin to realise that men like that, hooked on such extremes, only really have one place to go. As for Katherine Bigelow, who won best Director, the first time a woman has, perhaps it takes an intelligent woman to tell us the truth of war and men. Remember though, like so much good work, it was based on a novel.