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The Hurt Locker: nerve-shredding portrait of war

A nerve-shredding drama about an elite US army bomb disposal unit in Iraq, The Hurt Locker packs a visceral punch designed to put viewers inside the soldier's experience.

india Updated: Mar 08, 2010 10:54 IST

A nerve-shredding drama about an elite US army bomb disposal unit in Iraq, The Hurt Locker packs a visceral punch designed to put viewers inside the soldier's experience.

The low-budget drama, which was crowned best picture at the Oscars here Sunday scooping a total of six awards, was based on a screenplay written by US journalist Mark Boal, who was embedded alongside a bomb squad in 2004.

The film, masterfully directed by Kathryn Bigelow, revolves around the tense relationship between maverick disposal expert Staff Sergeant William James, played by Jeremy Renner, and his comrades.

Bigelow became the first woman in history to win the Oscar for best director, while Boal also scooped up a statuette for best original screenplay. The Hurt Locker also won Oscars for sound editing, sound mixing and film editing.

Unlike several recent films about the war in Iraq which flopped at the US box-office, The Hurt Locker avoids making statements about the conflict and instead focuses on the daily lives of the soldiers themselves.

"You know, you're trying to survive," says Bigelow.

"You're probably not giving much political discourse in the heat of a battle... I think the piece is really about survival."

Boal, who co-produced the film with Bigelow, said he became fascinated by the activities of bomb squads as the use of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) skyrocketed during the escalating insurgency.

"It was an eye-opening experience to see what they did on a daily basis," Boal said, noting that disposal squads were typically required to defuse around 8 to 15 IEDs per shift in 2004.

Bigelow said she intended the film to replicate the raw reportage of Boal's journalism.

"My feeling as a filmmaker was that I really wanted to maintain that 'reportorial' quality," she said.

"I wanted to basically put the audience into the shoes of not only the reporter, but also the soldier on the ground.

"I wanted to give the audience a real, boots-on-the-ground, you-are-there look at what it would be like to have the world's most dangerous job."

The excruciating tension of the bomb squad's work is superbly brought to life in a series of set piece scenes throughout the film, notably one sequence where Sgt James is required to untangle an IED comprising several inter-connected artillery shells.

Bigelow's decision to cast relative unknowns throughout the film was also calculated to keep the audience guessing as to which characters would live or die at any given moment.

Renner is superbly supported by Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty as the other members of his unit.

The film was shot in Jordan in July 2007, with Bigelow and the cast working in ferocious summer temperatures.

"It was a pretty challenging logistical shoot," Bigelow said. "Some of the days were 120 degrees and Jeremy was wearing an 80-pound bomb suit, steel plated and a helmet with little to no oxygen."

Yet the arduous shoot proved worthwhile, with The Hurt Locker gaining universal critical plaudits soon after its release.

The Rotten Tomatoes movie review aggregator has given the film a 97 per cent approval rating based on 182 reviews, while the New York Times hailed the film as the best movie so far about the war in Iraq.

"The movie is a viscerally exciting, adrenaline-soaked tour de force of suspense and surprise, full of explosions and hectic scenes of combat," the Times review commented.

The film "distills the psychological essence and moral complications of modern warfare into a series of brilliant, agonizing set pieces," it added.