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DVD Review: The Hurt Locker

Pulled taut and throbbing with visceral fear, the stakes are clear from the start of The Hurt Locker, with barely a breath of relief until the credits roll.

This is exactly the effect that Kathryn Bigelow set out to create. In recent weeks, the director been awash in much-deserved awards nominations (including becoming only the seventh woman to receive a Directors Guild of America nod for a feature film) that have been showering praise on her documentary-like drama about men at war, and what drives them to it. In The Hurt Locker‘s DVD edition, which hit streets this week, the director opens up about her methodology in making the film, as well as some of the production nuances, hurdles and backstories.

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During a behind-the-scenes segment, Bigelow explains that she wanted audiences to feel what it would be like to be in the elite bomb squad unit that the film depicts. Shot in Amman, Jordan, The Hurt Locker follows a fictional squad during a deployment in Baghdad in 2004, and offers a glimpse of their daily lives. Jeremy Renner stars as Sgt. William James, who dismantles the IEDs (Improvised explosive device) across the city, one bomb at a time. Wearing a gigantic protective suit and armed with no more than some tools and his instincts, he makes the slow walk to the bomb site in scene after scene, as his team covers him from snipers and other potential dangers.

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Sgt. James, it turns out, is a bit of a cowboy — making up the rules as he goes along — while his team members are less so: Sgt. JT Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) is more pensive, while Spc. Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) is a baby-faced soldier with the weight of the war on his shoulders. As they learn to work and survive together, each confronts his own fears, and considers what compels them to take such risks, day after day. The Hurt Locker is fundamentally about addiction to war: why people flirt with death, how it affects them, and what keeps them coming back.

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In the DVD’s commentary, writer and co-producer Mark Boal explains that the script was based on his stint as a journalist embedded with a bomb squad. At the time, the Iraqis’ extensive the use of IEDs took the military by surprise, making Baghdad a kind of wild West, with no protocol. And while the script is his, his discussion with Bigelow reveals her intense attention to detail and commitment to executing her vision — starting with the financing. Largely overseas capital funded The Hurt Locker, which allowed Bigelow the freedom to do things like film in the Middle East, cast non-“marquee value” actors (as she puts it), and insist on real military equipment, versus “HMEs” (Hollywood movie explosions).

Bigelow says that she was “more than intrigued” by Boal’s script as a psychological profile. What also drew her to the film was her sense that Americans weren’t getting the whole picture about what was going on in Iraq. With gripping suspense, believable characters and artful cinematography, The Hurt Locker brings us a taste of life at war, far too close for comfort.

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