I probably wouldn't bother to write about The Hurt Locker except that I happened to be watching it — via DVD — on Oscars night. That wasn't because of any prior planning; it just happened to come up in my Netflix queue and arrived last week. Since The Hurt Locker won the gongs for Best Picture, Directing, Editing, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Fingernail Trimming, it is no doubt being much discussed at the moment. Given human nature, there will probably be a backlash against it.
For what it's worth, I thought the film was memorable in parts, but in view of all the talent that went into it, it should have been a heck of a lot better.
First, credit where due. Most of the action scenes — and the movie was basically a series of action scenes strung together like a necklace — were gripping and felt authentic.
Felt authentic because I don't know what bomb disarming special ops are actually like. But seeming realistic is all you can ask a film to do. Most of the action scenes because the extended chase through buildings and alleys about 3/4 of the way through was like what has been beaten into a wad in dozens of cop movies.
Kathryn Bigelow's direction? You know, back when I was reviewing movies for the weekly rag in Santa Fe, around 1990, I gave her early Blue Steel three stars (out of five; I disliked assigning star ratings but it was the paper's style). I was impressed that she made the routine genre film surprisingly polished, and got a very fine performance from Jamie Lee Curtis. That was the last of her movies I had seen before The Hurt Locker.
As to the latter, her work was, well, professional. I don't know how much control she had over the casting — possibly complete, since this was touted as an "indie" — but in any case she seems to work well with actors. The leads, all previously unknown to me, left nothing to be desired. And Bigelow probably deserves kudos for the unusually involving action takes. Still, with due respect, the film industry has action down to a science, since that's what most movies consist of these days. That she didn't mess them up (except for the previously mentioned chase) is an achievement, but not a particularly outstanding one.
I'll skip the editing and sound, which are hard to evaluate because you don't know what options were rejected or not thought of, except to say that, again, I didn't find anything either exceptional or clumsy. Oh, one thing: the sound mixer resisted the temptation to make the rifle shots and explosions too loud. Good going.
Giving Mark Boal the Oscar for best screenplay was fatuous, unless all the other nominees were worse, which is possible. What screenplay? The scenes looked mostly improvised, and not always to good effect. The connective tissue between the explosives and shooting bits, where the team members "fought" and "bonded" (in quotation marks because neither was very convincing) were almost embarrassing.
The dialogue largely consisted of constant obscenities (again, likely ad lib). Now I don't object to the obscenity as such — it is probably how soldiers on bomb disposal duty talk. The trouble is that there wasn't much else; hardly a line in the whole picture was a keeper.
Nor was there any real plot building, story arc, character development, whatever you want to call old-fashioned storytelling virtues. Just episodes that became more familiar and less effective as they went on. To be fair, there was one strong scene near the end where a wired up suicide bomber repented at the last minute and asked to be relieved of his explosives before the timer detonated him. If only more of The Hurt Locker had that kind of quiet but intense drama.
By the way, I kept waiting for a line of dialogue to pay off the title, but if it was there I missed it.