War in the Middle East finally done right - Martyn reviews THE HURT LOCKER!

hurtlockerreview In the opening scene of The Hurt Locker, a bomb disposal technician (Guy Pearce) gears up to dismantle a roadside explosive in what looks bizarrely like an astronaut€™s space-suit. The soldiers in this conflict are so far removed from contemporary western life, they could be in outer space or on another planet. Kathryn Bigelow is responsible for one of the greatest and stupidest action films ever made: Point Break. Behind all the daft dialogue and ludicrous set-pieces there was always the suspicion that something sub-textual and clever was going on. With her latest film, and with a more serious subject matter, she presents an exploration of war as addiction; delivering it in almost-documentary style. The film rattles, shakes and booms along with the gunfire and explosions. The sound design is thunderous to the point of deafening on occasion, and the constant use of whip pans and crash zooms disorientates and bewilders: Bigelow uses every cinematic trick in the book in order to embed the viewer in with the soldiers as they operate on streets where literally anything, no matter how innocuous-looking, is a potential threat. The tension is constant: it thrills and unnerves in equal measure, suggesting that for some, war is akin to a drug experience. It is not just crazy soldiers being crazy and violent for the sake of it. These are men shedding their old-life personas and re-defining themselves through violent experience, and the ever prevalent acknowledgement of sudden death. For Staff Sgt. James (Jeremy Renner), having diffused over eight hundred bombs, he collects detonators as souvenirs. Each one a reminder of how close he came to meeting his maker and how he survived. There is a brooding psychopathic edge to Sgt. James and his comedic and laissez-faire approach to bomb disposal belies the fact he is an adrenaline junkie using wartime experiences as the ultimate joy ride. Like all modern war films, the carnage is gruesome and does not shy away from delivering provocative imagery. Several scenes are harrowing in a way never committed to film before; the conflict allowing for a treasure chest of horrors. One including the use of a dead Iraqi boy as a €˜body bomb€™ with C4 packed into his stomach. It is a surreal, albeit nasty scene as a distraught Sgt. James cuts open the boy and removes the explosive device. The film€™s loose narrative structure allows for diversions, subplots and wild digressions. It is a film where anything can happen: and usually does. Whether it is drunken fighting back at the base, playing violent video games on downtime, or helping out British mercenaries (Ralph Fiennes in a cameo) track their bounty in the desert - it never once puts a foot wrong. The mixture of freewheeling narrative and tight suspense is marvellously handled. The Hurt Locker is very funny. Its humour, jet black. In one scene, an army psychologist suggests to one bemused soldier: €œwar doesn€™t have to be a negative experience.€ Indeed, its humour and in Bigelow€™s attention to authenticity, the film feels a close cousin to Full Metal Jacket. Both are expert depictions of the dehumanising effects of war and soldiering. As Private Joker says at the end of Stanley Kubrick€™s opus: €˜I€™m in a world of shit€yes. But I am alive. And I am not afraid€™. It is a sentiment echoed in Bigelow€™s film. With the war still not quite over in Iraq, even less so in Afghanistan, and Hollywood having exploited the subject matter to various degrees with a plethora of films: The Hurt Locker rises above them all. It is cinema at its most draining, haunting and, dare I say it? Exhilarating.

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