After finally watching The Hurt Locker I have to say it truly deserved its awards. The allegation that it only won thanks to anti-Cameron votes is a sour grapes libel against this great film which happens to be set in Iraq but is not “about” the Iraq War in the cheap way that Avatar attempts to be “about” Iraq or the War on Terror.
Even more impressively, although it is set in the historical situation rather than a fantasy version, the temptation to lob verbal grenades like “terrorism” or “Islam” is rejected at every turn as the gratuitous distractions they would be. The contrast with Avatar, which carelessly recycles politically radioactive buzzwords without earning them (indeed the screenwriting equivalent of dirty bombs), could not be more stark.
Along with Tarantino’s, Bigelow’s film is one of the two most suspenseful movies of the year. The criticism that the suspense is effortlessly built into The Hurt Locker because the story is about bombs is false because the most suspenseful scene of the whole film — which is not only the chronological centrepiece but also the emotional centrepiece, during which the main characters finally bond with each other — does not involve any bombs whatsoever but is an engrossingly slow shootout between snipers. What a sequence!
The Hurt Locker also turns the cinematic conventions of bomb defusing on their heads because the main character never pauses before cutting a wire of any color. Time is still of the essence, but the whole enterprise of defusing bombs is defamiliarized when the primary threats are generated from the surroundings rather than from the bomb itself.
The film also defies narrative conventions by maintaining the point of view of a single unit without showing the private conferences of enemy combatants, despite the indications that a nefarious plot is unfolding. The main characters have numerous points of contact with this plot but the audience never learns more about it than the characters with whom we are embedded. In this sense it is a literal rejection of “plot” in favor of character.
The variety of situations are also impressive and they never tempt the thought, Here we go again, we have to watch him defuse yet another bomb, just like the last bomb. Instead, each situation presents a unique set of challenges — and the audience can hardly condemn Staff Sgt. James for enjoying the thrill of overcoming those challenges which it is itself enjoying vicariously through him.