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The latest film directed by Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty,has drawn criticism for its morally and philosophically ambiguity. In contrast, The Hurt Locker-another, earlier Bigelow-directed film (it was released in 2009)-sets its moral outlook at the very start with a simple quote: “War is a drug.” The plot centers around the Iraq War, but the name of the war is almost irrelevant to the movie’s impact; it is a universal story about the horror of war in general, with a focus on the tragic experiences of the people who occupy the center of militaristic destruction.
The hero of this story (played by Jeremy Renner) is a disillusioned and incautious soldier whose job is to defuse bombs. Over a series of mini-narratives that track each of his methodical diffusion of bombs, a tragic and incredibly suspenseful story emerges. With each new bomb that he faces, the suspense builds relentlessly. Renner’s performance is deadpan but effective: when his character sets out to defuse a bomb, his mixture of intense focus and cynical humor is unnerving and transfixing.
Similarly to the style of acting, the camera work is modest and consciously nondescript. The suspense comes from the plot and the writing, not from heart-pounding music or flashy editing. The filmmakers behind The Hurt Locker carefully balance long shots and claustrophobic close-ups, creating jarring but purposeful discord through the juxtaposition of the two. This movie also provides clear evidence that movies can create narrative tension without any relentless and disorienting series of montages comprised of second-long video clips. The Hurt Locker takes its agonizing time to get to the point of each scene, and it is all the more effective for doing so.
In terms of production and appearance, The Hurt Locker is a minimalist film. With this unassuming style, it delivers one of the most exciting and suspenseful stories in recent history.