Sunday, August 09, 2009

Solving problems, one bomb at a time

The Hurt Locker (2008, USA, Kathryn Bigelow): 9.5/10

Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker isn’t a war movie even though it is set in a war zone. It is a film about problem solving, with the problems being either diffusing bombs or taking out enemy snipers. In fact, the best moments of the film are when the soldiers are shown in the middle of their problem solving exercises which require zen like concentration. The soldiers don’t have any time for pondering about the meaning of life or questioning the war’s motives or even to pause and stare at death head on; the dangerous situations require them to tune everything else out and only focus on the ticking bomb or enemy in the line of sight.

One of the film's best sequences takes place during a long and patiently shot sniper scene in the desert. The sequence shows how even a soldier’s breathing or heart beat could make him miss a long range target. Plus, the camera angles brilliantly show the scene from the sniper’s perspective and at no point does the camera switch over to a close up of the target. This technique allows one to get a sense of the difficulty in adjusting for the depth and range of the target and the concentration required. Normally, other films handle similar sniper scenes by first showing the good guys aiming for the enemy and then immediately having the next shot show a close up of the enemy being shot. As a result, one never gets a sense of the target’s range.

The Hurt Locker does incorporate other aspects of the soldier’s lives complete with macho games and punk rock music, things one has come to expect from films set in war zones. Thankfully the film does not waste too much time on the soldier’s drinking and whoring aspects which are supposed to take the edge off from the death defying tasks at hand. Not every thread is tied up in The Hurt Locker and that allows one to get a sense of the confusion and hazy information that the soldiers have to deal with, especially when the soldiers can’t speak the local language. There are some clues which allow the audience to identify some of the men who are observing and planning further bombings but overall, the film is not concerned with a typical Hollywood style happy ending where the enemy is rounded up at the end.

Easily one of the best films of the year and if this film is not nominated for a best feature in the 10 available slots at next year’s Academy awards, then there is something seriously wrong. I really doubt there are 10 better American movies than The Hurt Locker which are yet to be released in the next 4-5 months.

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