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"The Hurt Locker" Review

Kathryn Bigelow's bomb-defusing thriller The Hurt Locker has been an Oscar favorite throughout most of awards season - nominations are announced Feb. 2 - and it topped many critics lists with only the unequaled success of (her ex-husband) James Cameron's Avatar appearing as a spoiler to her becoming the first female director to take the Best Director prize. While Cameron won the Golden Globe, Bigelow won the DGA.

But how is the first movie set in the Iraq War that isn't a Bush-bashing/soldier-bashing/anti-American Hollyweird screed? Very good, but ultimately flat and unsatisfying. Focusing on the seemingly reckless thrill-junkie bomb tech played by Jeremy Renner, Bigelow keeps the tension on as he and his crew deal with the explosives literal and metaphorical. The inability to know if the locals are just watching or are waiting to trigger the blast and put it on JihadTube ratchets the screws tighter.

Using a pseudo-documentary shaky-cam style, the situations feel realistic even when the situations start getting a little unrealistic. I've seen some sniping online by people calling out various inaccuracies and impossibilities, but they're misplaced because The Hurt Locker is more about the psyches on the battlefield than the battle tactics shown. The thesis is spelled out from the start with a quote about war being a drug. I was surprised to see the screenplay was by Mark Boal, whose previous work was co-writing the story for Paul Haggis' profoundly dishonest and military-smearing In the Valley of Elah; here he is more fair without Haggis' trademark tilt and bias which made his Crash such a toxic mess.

My biggest problem with The Hurt Locker is that it doesn't really go anywhere story-wise; it doesn't have much arc and even the surprise deaths aren't that surprising. Just being tense isn't enough for me, no matter how well they tighten the screws.

Score: 7/10. Rent the DVD.


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