The Best Picture Winners: The Hurt Locker (2009)

| February 18, 2018

Oscar’s 90th birthday is just around the corner and to celebrate, every other day from now through March 4th, I will be taking a look at each and every film selected for his top award – the good, the bad and the sometimes not-so deserving.

In 2009, after 65 years of locking the Best Picture category into five nominees, the Academy’s board of governors decided to open the category to a wider range that would flex its nominees to ten.

Academy President Sid Ganis announced that: “Having 10 Best Picture nominees is going allow academy voters to recognize and include some of the fantastic movies that often show up in the other Oscar categories, but have been squeezed out of the race for the top prize.”  Personally, I think it was a salve on the embarrassment over not nominating The Dark Knight the year before.

Still, despite the expansion of the number of nominees, the last Best Picture race of the decade came down to a heated contest between two powerful epics: Avatar, a beautifully-made sci-fi adventure directed by James Cameron, and The Hurt Locker, a tense Iraq War drama directed by Cameron’s ex-wife Kathryn Bigelow. Between these two films – and among the nominees in general – my vote would have gone to The Hurt Locker, a surprising intelligent story of the reckless tendencies of William James  (Jeremy Renner), leader of The Army’s Explosive Ordinance Disposal Unit who defuses bombs with the manner of a skilled surgeon. He is very good at his job, but he is so sure of himself that he often puts his team in danger.  James is an addict, a man so keenly and solidly addicted to the danger that he puts himself in that it becomes his all-consuming driving motivation.

Bigelow’s skill comes out in brilliantly mounted action scenes that aren’t pumped full of phony suspense, but are built on what we know of the characters and their relation to one another.  There is no heroism here, only the portrait of a man for whom his risky occupation is an extreme sport, a drug that he can’t overcome.

Personally, I’m a big fan of upending any measure of war movie cliché – there is no genre of filmmaking the falls victim to boring tropes more than this one.  Today, the tapestry of most war films comes in two flavors: Right-wing attempts to “honor our boys” (Lone Survivor) or truther conspiracy nonsense (Green Zone).  It is refreshing that Katherine Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker side-steps any of this.  Here is a portrait of an individual, an addict, the movie could really have been about anything.  It didn’t even have to take place in Iraq.  That’s an accomplishment.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.