A War Movie Gone Thriller: The Hurt Locker (2008)

Yes, I had to do it. I had to add something on this ubiquitous film.

The story of The Hurt Locker should be sufficiently known by now. We are shown a bomb squad on their mission to disarm bombs in Iraq. When a real danger addict is appointed to be the new leader of the squad things get really exciting.

Somehow, when I realized I liked it, I felt a soft tingling feeling of shame that made me wonder.

But the fact that I did enjoy The Hurt Locker doesn´t necessarily mean I think it is a good war movie. There was a whole lot of suspense going on. It was entertaining and it sure felt like a thriller. The possibility of every  bomb or object to prove deadly seemed like a serial killer lurking around in the dark. He sees you, you sense him. Creepy. I stopped breathing every time Sgt. First Class James started to cut those little wires.

While I was watching it I did not for one second question it. I felt just so swept away and liked it. Period. But afterwards I found it kind of problematic. One is almost grateful wars take place and offer us such a great topic of suspense.

I remember that I had very comparable feelings after having seen Apocalypse Now. The anti-war message was just not clear enough for me.

Same here. It´s like saying: yeah well, war is shit, we shouldn´t do it but so what, it´s fun.

Of course that is not what Kathryn Bigelow tried to say but it is what the audience could understand.

This potential to be misunderstood comes from the blending of the genres. Or rather the blending of major techniques of different genres. War movies don´t normally create this type of suspense. It would have been possible to show the same without creating the suspense.

Maybe I should put it that way: The Hurt Locker is one hell of an exciting movie but a dubious war movie. It is especially problematic as it shows a very specific bit of warfare in Iraq. Where every other movie with an attempt at realism (the most extreme example would be Redacted. Come to think of it, Redacted is actually the antithesis of The Hurt Locker. It is so boring it hurts) has often long boring stretches where nothing else happens but watching road blocks, this one shows it as if the war in Iraq had nothing else but moments that got your adrenaline pumping.

Be it as it may it is great filmmaking. Kathryn Bigelow is very good at that. If you want to watch another one of her movies either try Point Break (1991) or Strange Days (1995). Both are highly enjoyable without creating any guilty feelings. Especially the first one is one of the rare movies that I can watch again and again. And, as an additional asset, it will help you understand her technique and where she comes from genre and theme wise.