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The Warsaw Voice » Culture » April 7, 2010
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The Hurt Locker
April 7, 2010   
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Can a film about a bomb disposal team in Iraq be boring? Strangely enough, yes. It can even win Oscars for best director and best picture, along with four other Academy Awards. That is the feat achieved by director Kathryn Bigelow (Strange Days, Point Break).
Staff Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner-The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, S.W.A.T.), who has disarmed over 870 bombs during his career, arrives in Baghdad to take command of a small bomb disposal team who are counting down the days until the end of their tour of duty. The last thing they need is a team leader addicted to adrenaline. There follows a game in which the stakes are survival in a land where the next person you see in the street may be intent on setting off a bomb triggered by their cell phone.
Unfortunately, The Hurt Locker leaves you cold about the fate of its characters. Even though every now and then a more or less spectacular explosion kills somebody, the movie never varies its pace. The few engaging scenes, such as James venturing out into late-night Baghdad or a deadly clash in the desert, are drowned amid the monotonous routine of finding and disarming (or not) another improvised explosive device. Then there are clichéd scenes with troops venting their stress in barracks by drinking, wrestling and telling one another touchy-feely family stories. We've seen it all a hundred times before, Vietnam war movies being a case in point. One new element, a sine qua non these days, is the army psychologist-who is so irritating in reciting textbook platitudes that you can't help but wish he gets blown up as soon as possible.
Bigelow has made a war movie about a group of men under extreme stress before. In K-19: The Widowmaker from 2002, she gave a compelling account of a malfunction aboard a Soviet nuclear submarine. Based on a true story, the movie benefited from solid performances by Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson, who played the captain and the first officer on the submarine, conflicted yet brought together in their struggle to prevent a disaster. Such strong characters are nowhere to be found in The Hurt Locker and apart from Renner, none of the main actors are memorable. It may have been the filmmakers' intention to make soldiers on the bomb squad appear unremarkable so as to underscore the anonymity of ordinary soldiers at war. But that is no excuse for a movie in which the most memorable characters are cameos played by actors of a higher class. This is exactly what happens in Bigelow's movie, where the most charismatic characters are the leader of a group of British mercenaries hunting Saddam Hussein loyalists in the desert (Ralph Fiennes-The English Patient, the Harry Potter series), ruthless American Colonel Reed (David Morse-The Green Mile, The Rock) and even the bomb disposal team leader whom James replaces (Guy Pearce-L.A. Confidential, The Time Machine). In total, the three appear on screen for around just ten minutes.
Witold ¯ygulski
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