If you walk into a screening of The Hurt Locker with a set of fulsome fingernails, expect to leave with stubs. If you’re a chronic nail biter, expect to leave with half your fingers gnawed off.
There are intense films and then there are films as throbbingly white-knuckle as director Kathryn Bigelow’s swear-you’re-there war pic about the rush, dangers and complexities of bomb defusing in Iraq. The Hurt Locker is light on story and heavy on atmosphere, essentially comprising a string of long and drawn out set pieces delivered with a breathless, sweaty, uncomfortably realistic verisimilitude. An explosive introductory action scene proves Bigelow can go all the way – and the effect of that scene lingers throughout. All the characters’ lives feel as precarious as the job they do – one step away from one small mistake and one helluva big bang.
The protagonist is Staff Sergeant and all-round fearless hard arse William James (memorably performed by Jeremy Renner) who has chalked up a tally of bomb diffusions about as big as Roger Federer’s Grand Slam score sheet. James takes over a small counterforce team of diffusers, who understandably question who he is and what planet of sub-human warriors he comes from. James is an intriguing character – ready, it seems, for the great beyond at any given moment. But what drives him? Nihilism? An insatiable addiction to thrills? Boredom? Guilt for having voted Republican?
The cast’s hard-hearted performances perfectly suit Bigelow’s sweat-and-blood direction. The lack of a strongly linked ongoing storyline impacts the cohesiveness of the second half, but the characters and action scenes carry The Hurt Locker across the line – and then some. During one horrifying scene depicting a last minute attempt to neutralise a suicide bomber, I had to remind myself to breathe.
The Hurt Locker’s Australian theatrical release date: February 18, 2010