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Kathryn Bigelow
Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty, Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes, David Morse, Evangeline Lilly
Writing Credits:
Mark Boal

You'll Know When You're In It.

If war is hell, why do so many men choose to fight? In an age when armies consist not of draftees but of volunteers, and men willingly thrust themselves into military action, sometimes the rush of battle is a potent and alluring attraction, even an addiction.

The Hurt Locker is an intense portrayal of elite soldiers who have one of the most dangerous jobs in the world: disarming bombs in the heat of combat. When a new sergeant, James (Jeremy Renner), takes over a highly trained bomb disposal team amidst violent conflict, he surprises his two subordinates, Sanborn and Eldridge (Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty), by recklessly plunging them into a deadly game of urban combat. James behaves as if he's indifferent to death. As the men struggle to control their wild new leader, the city explodes into chaos, and James' true character reveals itself in a way that will change each man forever.

From visionary filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker is based on first-hand observation by journalist and screenwriter Mark Boal who was stationed on assignment with a special bomb unit. Starring Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty, the film couples grippingly realistic action with intimate human drama to portray soldier psychology in a high-risk profession where men volunteer to face deadly odds.

Box Office:
$11 million.
Opening Weekend
$145.352 thousand on 4 screens.
Domestic Gross
$12.647 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 1.78:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
English Dolby Surround 2.0
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 130 min.
Price: $34.99
Release Date: 1/12/2010

• Audio Commentary with Director Kathryn Bigelow and Writer Mark Boal
• “The Hurt Locker: Behind the Scenes” Featurette
• Image Gallery
• Previews


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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The Hurt Locker [Blu-Ray] (2009)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 29, 2010)

Whenever I review a movie related to the war in Iraq, I feel compelled to mention that mass audiences don’t seem very interested in the subject – at least not on the screen. To date, we’ve gotten more than a handful of flicks that investigate the subject, but none have done well at the box office.

That’s true even when the movies in question receive virtually universal praise. Take 2009’s The Hurt Locker, for instance. It scored consistently positive reviews and seems like a lock to earn an Academy Award nomination as Best Picture. However, it mustered a mere $12 million, a figure that indicated audiences still have no active interest in Iraq-based war films. Granted, it never got wide distribution, but this could be “chicken or the egg”: did Locker never go wide because it made no money, or did it make no money because it never went wide?

I’m betting on the former, as this just isn’t a movie that seems likely to earn a mass audience. Set in Baghdad circa 2004, Locker looks at Bravo Company, soldiers who must disarm bombs. When Sgt. Matt Thompson (Guy Pearce) dies during an explosion, Staff Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner) comes in as his replacement.

He works alongside Sgt. JT Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty). The cocky James’ methods clash with Sanborn’s more conservative approach, and the two butt heads as they go about their jobs. The film follows their work as they go through the final month of their rotation.

Perhaps if I saw Locker without awareness of its universal praise, I might not view it as a major disappointment. I’m not sure this means I’d like it much more than I do right now, but at least it wouldn’t seem like such a let-down.

As I watched Locker, I kept waiting for something to communicate what all the fuss was about, but that moment never came. This doesn’t mean that it’s a bad film, but it’s certainly not one that I think ever stands out as memorable, insightful, emotional or dramatic.

Part of the problem stems from its relentlessly episodic nature. Almost without fail, the film follows an “action/downtime/action/downtime” structure. The “action” beats fill the vast majority of the running time, so we don’t get much character exploration. Along the way, we learn that James has a son and a semi-estranged wife, while Sanborn has a girlfriend and he eventually decides he wants a kid, too.

Yeah, that’s about it as far as character definition goes. While the setting might lead you to believe that Locker will tell a gritty tale of war, instead it just takes that environment and creates a standard issue action flick. James is no more of a real person than John McClane or his like, a point that the movie’s last scene drives home to us. When James enters the fray with loud rock blasting, are we supposed to see him as anything other than the usual fearless action hero? Maybe, but we don’t. I think this trivializes the battle setting and makes the tale awfully one-dimensional.

The only real tension comes from the question of which characters will live or die. Locker tries to complicate this with its loosey-goosey approach to its “name” actors, most of whom die pretty quickly. When a movie does this, it wants to convey the message that no characters are safe; if the well-known performers don’t survive, then what hope do the no-names have?

That technique feels a bit cheesy to me, and I think it’d be more effective if we ever really gave a hoot about any of the three main characters. We care about James, Sanborn and Elridge in a vague manner but never due to anything that comes onscreen. Locker barely bothers to explore their personalities beyond superficial traits and tendencies.

Director Kathryn Bigelow comes from an action flick background; she was once married to James Cameron, and she made her name with efforts like Near Dark, Strange Days and Point Break. Just because she comes from the popcorn action genre doesn’t mean she can’t create something with greater depth and emotion, but I don’t see that side in Locker. The film never plays as anything more than an action flick take on a more serious subject; there’s nothing on display here to give the tale more heft.

Bigelow’s inability to dig deeper makes Locker rather tedious after a while. It’s one long collection of life or death action sequences without much to give them impact. Perhaps the film went this way to convey the harrowing, relentless lifestyle of the soldier, but the flick’s lightness undercuts that side of it. Rather than feel like the soldiers go through a non-stop barrage of harrowing incidents, we just see them as action heroes who cheat death in a variety of ways.

Bigelow’s obsessive use of handheld camerawork becomes a problem as well. Regular readers know of my disdain for “shakycam”, as I think it’s a cheap way to attempt verisimilitude. Directors seem to believe it lends their work a documentary feel, but often the camerawork just comes across as ugly and awkward.

That’s what happens throughout Locker. The handheld photography does nothing to make the footage feel more real or visceral. Instead, it tends to distract us from the drama; we’re put off by the jerky visuals and find ourselves distanced from the story and characters.

The more I think about Locker, the more stunned I feel that it has so much praise and Oscar buzz. The relentless plaudits leave me with the impression that the movie has real depth and emotion, but it doesn’t. It’s a standard action flick that simply sets itself someplace with a little more natural drama than the surfing bank robbers of Point Break.

Since I believe the Academy ignores great genre films in favor of stiff, dull dramas, I should feel happy that Locker is a guaranteed Best Picture nominee. However, I’m not, if just because I don’t think it does the action field any favors.

When Oscar smiles upon an excellent pure adventure like Casino Royale or The Dark Knight, then I’ll applaud. The Hurt Locker is an ordinary action movie with pretensions; I see nothing about it that merits great praise, much less Oscar glory.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B/ Audio A-/ Bonus C+

The Hurt Locker appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The film’s stylistic choices made it look a bit off at times, but I thought the Blu-ray represented the source material fairly well.

Due to the filmmaking techniques, sharpness lacked consistency. The movie used a faux documentary style, so focus occasionally came on the fly. That side of things affected definition, but those weren’t the only shots that failed to deliver great delineation. Most of the film appeared accurate, but occasional elements came across as somewhat soft. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and edge enhancement was absent. The movie featured stylized grain, and I saw a few small specks; otherwise the film was clean.

Like most movies set during desert wars, Locker went with an arid palette much of the time. A few scenes used a cold blue tone, and the occasional brighter hue emerged, but the sandy look dominated. Within those constraints, the disc exhibited good color reproduction. Blacks tended to be dark and tight, but shadows were somewhat heavy. A lot of that was due to the stylistic choices, though, so while it didn’t look good, it wasn’t a real distraction. Overall, the transfer suited the film reasonably well.

I felt more consistently satisfied with the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of The Hurt Locker. War flicks usually boast excellent audio, and that trend held true here. From start to finish, the mix used all five channels to create a good sense of place and action. With lots of moving vehicles, gunfire, and explosions, the material filled out the soundscape on a nearly continual basis. This added a lot of drama to the situations and helped engulf the viewer in the film. We even got a fair amount of directional dialogue along the way, though not in a gimmicky manner.

Audio quality always satisfied. Despite the fact much of it had to be looped, speech appeared natural and well-integrated. Music showed nice clarity and definition, while effects literally packed a serious punch. The movie featured deep, loud bass that shook the room, and the effects appeared clean and dynamic. This was a consistently impressive soundtrack.

Only a handful of extras appear here. The main attraction comes from an audio commentary with director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific chat about the project’s roots and development, story, script and characters, cast and performances, attempts at realism, locations and related issues, effects, visuals, editing, music, and the film’s release.

Although they speak in oddly hushed tone better suited for All Things Considered, Bigelow and Boal combine to create a pretty good commentary. They cover a wide array of subjects connected to the production and do so with a minimum of self-praise. We learn enough to make this a satisfying discussion.

The Hurt Locker: Behind the Scenes runs 12 minutes, 35 seconds and features notes from Boal, Bigelow, cinematographer Barry Ackroyd, special effects supervisor Richard Stutsman, and actors David Morse, Jeremy Renner, Guy Pearce, Anthony Mackie, and Brian Geraghty. The featurette looks at story/background and character elements, Bigelow’s style as director, camerawork and effects, and locations. Don’t expect a whole lot from this program. It exists largely to promote the film, so it includes a lot of movie clips. A few minor insights occur, but the show doesn’t give us much interesting info.

Finally, we get an Image Gallery. It presents a running montage of shots from the set along with optional audio; the latter presents an Institute of Contemporary Art, London Q&A with Bigelow and Boal. The reel lasts 23 minutes, 30 seconds and provides a good collection of photos, while the Q&A addresses the film’s origins and development, locations and camerawork, sound design, political content or lack thereof, auditioning and casting actors, and the flick’s release. A fair amount of material repeats from the commentary, but we still find some new details, and this becomes a reasonably engaging piece.

A few ads open the disc. We get clips for Sorority Row and Next Day Air. No trailer for Locker shows up here.

As an action flick, The Hurt Locker offers thin gruel. It proves to be predictable and ordinary, as it does little to turn into a special, memorable experience. The Blu-ray offers good picture, excellent audio, and a few useful supplements. With a raft of rave reviews, Locker certainly boasts a long roster of fans, but I can’t count myself as one of them; I think it’s a rote war flick without anything exceptional to be found.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.2666 Stars Number of Votes: 90
11 3:
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