The Hurt Locker: *** 1/4 (out of 4)

It took me quite a while to actually make it to The Hurt Locker. I first saw something about it on The Daily Show a few months ago, and shortly thereafter actually saw a trailer for it. It looked depressing, violent, and extremely compelling - and perhaps more of a "concept" movie than a "plot" one. And for whatever reason, it seemed like a movie I wanted to see with somebody - perhaps not in a "date movie" kind of way, but at least with a friend. But all this led to not seeing it at all - not everyone thinks of this kind of thing as good "social fare". And so when I saw that it was still showing at one of the local art theatres, I braved it alone. And I was happy that I did so.

The Hurt Locker is about a bomb squad unit in Iraq in 2004 - back when the insurgency was at its strongest. The squad is led by Sgt James, a hotshot explosives expert who would always rather disable the bombs by hand, rather than using the bomb robot or just plain blowing up the explosives from a distance. His squad mates think that he has a death wish; and the movie is, in part, about the question of whether they're right.

The movie is, of course, stressful to watch. The scenes from the trailers - the road-side explosives, the tied-together bombs, the car stuffed with explosives - all of these occur in the first 45 minutes or so. While those scenes were hard to watch, it turns out that the later scenes were harder - the suicide bomber, the children, and the sniper battle in the desert. Those scenes seemed more open-ended, and therefore harder to watch. At least with the bombs, you know when they're disarmed.

But that wasn't actually the interesting part. The truly fascinating part was observing the Iraqis - their interactions with the Americans, their fascination and contempt for the occupiers, the children's choice of language (the saddest part of the movie for me was the kids having learned English from Gangsta Rap music videos), and their varied relationships with the insurgency. I don't know how accurate it all was, but it seemed real, in a way that I hadn't seen very much of lately.

For all of these good parts, the movie was still somewhat shallow. It's really a character piece, but besides "addicted to combat", the character turns out to be fairly shallow. I don't know what could have improved matters, but I didn't really come around to understanding the character all that well over time. All I can say is that I disliked him slightly less at the end of the movie than at the beginning.

Still, it was worthwhile. And I would have liked to talk to somebody about it as I came out.

*** 1/4