Oscarthon: Best Picture- The Hurt Locker

A ten part series on the Best Picture nominees, structured around four basic questions.

Part 5: The Hurt Locker

Was It Any Good?

Oh man was it good. Seriously, you should go rent it. After countless Iraq war films, we finally found the right combination of narrative hook (following an Explosive Ordinance Disposal unit from bomb to bomb) and perfect director (Kathryn Bigelow, who knows her way around the right amount of fear, thrills, and action).

The result? A tense, quick, terrifying trip to Iraq- one without any sort of "message" beyond taking us to the forefront of the new kind of war. It helps that the leads are virtually unknown- Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, and Brian Geraghty all do such great work it's easy to miss cameos by Ralph Fiennes, Guy Pearce, and Evangeline Lilly.


Would I See It Again?

In fact I just watched it on DVD for the second time, after seeing it in theaters in August- I was mildly concerned that it wouldn't pack the same punch, since I knew what would explode and what wouldn't, but that just made it more gripping, somehow.

The episodic plot leads to so many memorable moments, and the fact that it's so true-to-life makes them stick with you. You know what I felt when Home Tree fell in Avatar? Not a thing. But when Renner pulls a wire and six IEDs shake out of the dirt all around him, my stomach dropped into my shoes.

Watching it again with all of the Oscar nominations in mind gave me an appreciation of the craftsmanship as well (the first time I was too busy being all like "No WAY!" and stuff). The surprise nomination of the score seems right on to me- it was half dissonant tones blended with engine noises, sirens, and car horns, and it even had a recurring vaguely western theme if you listen for it.

Shots are framed with smoke and fire- The Hurt Locker moves from garbage strewn city streets to arid desert to a harrowing night seamlessly- only when Renner's character returns to the states does the world seem alien.

What Did It Acheive?

Financially, not that much- though robust DVD sales are encouraging, The Hurt Locker would be the lowest-grossing Best Picture winner ever (which would make Avatar the highest-grossing loser, natch).

But it's a masterpiece of filmmaking, and should lead to huge career boosts for Renner, Mackie, and especially Bigelow regardless of what it wins or loses. I mean, her last movie was K-19: The Widowmaker!

And I'm trying not to take it personally, but a victory over Avatar would be a triumph of the critical success over the popular consensus, and I'm all for it. If I want the biggest ticket to win every time, I'll just watch the Grammys.

Will I Remember It Years From Now?

And how. I was astonished when I wrote the Sound Mixing category preview, how many specific scenes I remembered before I had even re-watched it. The individual subplots might not be terribly complex- Geraghty's in particular has the most predictable outcome in one late scene- but they're really just incidental to the experience of the film, if that makes sense.

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