Like every war before it, the U.S. invasion of Iraq has generated its share of movies. But The Hurt Locker is the first of them that can properly be called a masterpiece.
Working from a screenplay by Mark Boal (who based the movie on his experiences as an embedded journalist with U.S. troops), director Kathryn Bigelow accomplishes two seemingly obvious but formidably difficult things: She crafts a taut and harrowing movie in which the suspense level rarely dips below excruciating, and she delivers an exceptionally detailed, first-hand account of the day-to-day existence of U.S. soldiers, the way Platoon did for Vietnam or Saving Private Ryan did for World War II.
The Hurt Locker is good enough to stand alongside those two hallowed classics, although it might initially seem too small and specific to merit such comparisons. Platoon and Ryan were designed to be broad summations of their respective wars, writ large, with the benefit of years of hindsight and reflection.
The Hurt Locker, which was shot on grainy 16mm film with handheld cameras and often looks not much different from a report you might see on CNN, is more urgent and of the moment. The movie does not concern itself with grand, sweeping statements or panoramic views of the Iraq conflict -- does not concern itself with anything, really, beyond its three protagonists, soldiers with one of the most dangerous jobs the Army has to offer.
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