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Movie Review: The Hurt Locker at the Edinburgh Film Festival 2009

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The Hurt Locker is just one of many movies dealing with the subject of the war in Iraq. It's a type of a movie that have proven time and time again to be worthy of people's attention and time, and yet most of them don't do all that well at the box office. This is most likely down to the fact that so much of the current war is shown on the news everyday that people don't want to pay money to go to the cinema just to see more of it, no matter how good the actual movie at hand may be.

Evoking the same feel as The Kingdom – both in tone and in subject matter – The Hurt Locker certainly delivers on its promise of tension and excitement. It's a bit on the heavy-handed side, and far too long (clocking at 130 minutes), but there's no denying the powerful effect it has, however forced some of that may be.

Set in (presumably) present day Iraq, The Hurt Locker centres on a an elite Army bomb squad who have been set to work within a location where danger is around every corner and almost everyone is a potential enemy. After the death of their lead bomb specialist, a new one is brought in as his replacement, someone who proves to be a bit too much on the wild and unsafe side for the liking of the rest of the team.

The Hurt Locker is directed by Kathryn Bigalow, who once brought us the likes of Point Break, K-19: The Widowmaker and Strange Days, amongst others. Mostly used to the world of action and drama, Bigelow turns her sights to the male director dominated world of the war movie. And she brings her experience of drama and tension along with her, sparking real emotion and true feelings out of a movie that, in the hands of another, could have easily been just about shooting people and blowing stuff up. The tagline for the movie is "War is a drug" and that theme is kept central to the arc of the replacement bomb specialist (played rather well by Jeremy Renner), and the ultimate dramatic pay-off the movie. Never once is the subject at hand dealt with in a way which demeans it – Bigelow thankfully realises how serious a subject this is, and treats it as such.

However, even in keeping the subject on a serious level, and the drama and tension wound tight, there are still plenty of action-orientated scenes to get lost in if that's what you're coming to the The Hurt Locker in search of. Admittedly every action scene is dealt with in a dramatic way, with tension always first on the checklist. Nonetheless the action is still there to be "enjoyed" (if you're allowed to use that word in connection with an Iraq war movie).

What's most impressive about The Hurt Locker is just how many of those tense action-orientated scenes there are. They come consistently and prolifically throughout pretty much the entire movie, sometimes when you least expect it. A lion's share of the situations that arise always have some sort of tension and excitement drawn out of them in every area possible. For example, when the bomb squad quietly and carefully try to clear an apparently abandoned building, the scene is shot in such a way that you feel as though anything could happen. And just when you think you know what's going to happen next, something totally unexpected rears its head. It's all quite skilfully pulled off in that respect

As much as I enjoyed seeing the likes of Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes, David Morse and Lost's Evangeline Lilly, they totally unneeded. The appearances are disappointingly short, with Pearce making the longest appearance, maybe being on screen for a maximum of 10 minutes. Lilly's appearance is pitifully short, which leads to me to wonder why they even bothered to get her, get any of them for that matter? Instead of being worthwhile additions to the proceedings, they were actually more of a distraction, taking me out of the movie because of the cameo-like nature of their appearances

Even if a lot of the action/tension scenes feel a bit forced and heavy-handed, it is undeniable the effect they nonetheless have. If the effect is good then why question the means of getting there? With quality performances and sometimes edge-of-your-seat tension, The Hurt Locker may not be a all-time classic of its type, but it's an enjoyable movie that still manages to maintain the seriousness of its subject matter.

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About Ross Miller