Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Hurt Locker

Kathryn Bigelow's latest film, The Hurt Locker, focuses on three explosive disposal experts in Iraq. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) is by-the-book, just looking to make it through his tour. Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) is young, but obsessed with thoughts of dying in his conversations with the company's shrink. And James (Jeremy Renner) is the new staff sergeant in from Afghanistan with a reckless streak that upsets the balance of the team. The film follows the three as they live out the last 39 days of their company's rotation; the adrenaline-fueled sorties into Baghdad and the quiet downtime in between, like a cross between Generation Kill and Danger UXB.

The film shows the close bond between these men that routinely face death and who place their lives in each other's hands. Bigelow, screenwriter Mark Boal, and the cast give a sense of why someone would do such a job and do so willingly. But Bigelow doesn't shy away from showing the brutality of the war, and how it leaves lasting effects on all sides, without imposing any moral judgement on the viewer. A pretty powerful film, with a few interesting cameos to boot.

Directory Kathryn Bigelow, screenwriter Mark Boal, and actor Jeremy Renner did a Q&A after the film (no spoilers):

  • The film was shot in Jordan, and all the Arabic faces and speaking roles were played by Iraqis.
  • Renner's character was a composite of some of the guys that Boal met in Iraq; his surprise was finding some men that were exhilarated by the experience of defusing explosives.
  • Someone asked if people like the one portrayed by Renner are benefits or hazards to their units; Boal replied that it's tricky to generalize, but really a little bit of both. Renner added that during training he asked if there was anyone like his character, and they knew one guy who would walk up to a 155 and kick it, and if it didn't blow up, then he won; he's still alive, and is more of an adrenaline junkie. But most are by-the-book.
  • The title refers to a place of ultimate pain, Boal heard it used that way by the military.
  • There was no special significance to Sanborn being in military intelligence before EOD. There is an overlap between those two branches in terms of the people who go into them.
  • Bigelow has always gone with independent financing for all her films, including this one, to help her achieve as much creative autonomy and work without compromise. She couldn't imagine working in the Middle East under any other situation.
  • The scenes with rocks coming up from the ground were to draw the audience in as if they were there, and to illustrate the concept of overpressure during an explosion. She thinks first about what tools do you need, then does storyboards, then brings in the special effects and cinematographer, and in those particular shots, used a digital Phantom camera (the rest of the movie was shot on film, but the digital shots were composited onto film) that can shoot the equivalent of 10,000 still frames per second.
  • The production schedule was 44 days, and they shot 200 hours of footage. In all, they spent 5 months including pre-production. They started shooting in the middle of July, which was not ideal as Renner had to wear a real bomb suit made of 80 lbs of steel plate and Kevlar in about 120F heat.
  • A question was asked if there were any female bomb techs. Bigelow met one at Fort Irwin, (they went to Camp Arifjan in Kuwait as well as Ft. Irwin), and heard stories of others in-theatre.
  • Bigelow was familiar with Boal's journalistic work and his work on In The Valley of Elah, and then she found out he was going on an embed in Iraq. She feels the war is very under reported in the US, and was starved for information. When she heard these stories of these men who arguably have the most dangerous job in the world yet choose to do it, she thought it would be topical and relevant and great drama.
  • On preparation, Renner said it was already on the page and felt connected to the role. He spoke with Bigelow for two hours after getting the script. He trained a lot at Fort Irwin to make it as realistic as possible. He tried to learn all the rules first so he could figure out which the character could break.

Q&A with spoilers:
  • Bigelow talked of the boy on the table, and the would-be suicide bomber are both victims in a way, it's not a blanket generalization of a bifurcated conflict; it's very, very complex, and one could only hope to scratch the surface and look beneath with as much respect and humanity as you can, given the helplessness and futility of the war, as well as the heroism of the men are involved.
  • Ralph Finnes' character has his resolution so quickly as it is a discovery for the audience, and at the same time reinforcing the danger of the environment and how everything is a threat, and not to take anything for granted even if you are a major movie star.


My experiences at the Toronto International Film Festival. Note this blog is not affiliated with the Toronto International Film Festival Group or the festival itself.
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