THE Best Picture: The Hurt Locker (2009)

By Christian DiMartino

When choosing which movies I wanted to discuss for this segment, I went in two different routes. With some of these films, my mind was more than made up. I’ve had years to form an opinion, and the onion is beyond formed: either the movie deserved it, or it didn’t. The thing about movies is that the more you sit on them, the more you can form an opinion. On the other hand, some of the films I chose because I wanted to know if maybe I was wrong, either because the general consensus was that the movie was great, or that I liked the movie more than others, or that I had only seen it once, and this segment would be my excuse to take a trip back to these films and give them another chance.

Take Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker, for example. Until Friday, the last time I’d seen the film was in 2010, and at that time I remembered thinking it was well made, but I wasn’t wowed. Mind you, I was 13. Not to mention, re-watching the film, I wasn’t even sure if I’d actually seen the film in its entirety. So why did I somewhat write the film off? Probably because it won Best Picture, Director, and Original Screenplay over Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds.

Truth is, I’ve had 12 years to form a deep love for Tarantino’s film. In fact, I’ll even go as far as to say that it just might be his greatest achievement, and that’s saying something. Yet as I sit here typing, I come to you all with a confession, and it’s something my stubborn ass will rarely ever admit: I was wrong. Not about Tarantino’s film, but about Bigelow’s. After 12 years, I finally understand the hype, because Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker is a pretty amazing film, and whilst not my top vote, necessarily, it would be churlish of me to say that the Academy made the wrong choice.

My resistance towards this film is strange also because I have loved a good chunk of Bigelow’s films, before and since. Point Break is a blast, Strange Days is an underrated gem, Zero Dark Thirty is near perfection, Detroit is powerful. Yet perhaps the best one of all was right in front of me the whole time, people told me it was the best one, and I just chose not to see it. The Hurt Locker ranks somewhere among the great war films- not exactly sure where, because there are a plethora, but it’s up there. Here is an exceptionally well-crafted film that isn’t so plot-driven as it is experience-driven.

For two hours, Bigelow places us smack-dab in the middle of a combat zone, placing us in nightmarish situations that some people are doing on a daily basis. The tension is at times so tight in The Hurt Locker that you could probably hear a pin drop. It’s a thrill ride that we totally believe. Yet it’s more than that: it’s a film about men at work, men of extreme bravery, and to further that, the thrill of it all that keeps them coming back. If it were me, I’d be hiding in a ditch until the whole thing is over. Yet I’ve heard stories about guys who have served multiple times, and each time I’ve been baffled as to why they would do such a thing. Bigelow’s film provides an answer: for some, it’s all about the thrill, and life back home just can’t live up to that thrill.

The “some,” in question, is one Staff Sergeant William James, played by Jeremy Renner in his finest hour. James is assigned as the leader of an army bomb squad in Iraq, following a mission gone wrong. His first day on the job, he pretty much scares the daylights out of his team members, Sanborn (Anthony Mackie, a fellow Avenger) and Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) as he deliberately throws smoke bombs behind him to make this experience even more nerve-wracking than this has to be. The film mostly follows this trio, as they defuse bomb-to-bomb, and as James, despite the ante pretty much constantly being upped, doesn’t cower in the face of danger: he lives for it.

Bigelow became the first (and only, unless Chloe Zhao breaks the tradition this year) female director to win the Best Director Oscar, and it’s very easy to see why. The way these moments are crafted are with extreme precision; the way the camera moves makes you feel as if you are in the middle of the nightmare. The Hurt Locker is a thrill-ride, but it’s a thrill ride with much to say. Yet in another balancing act, it’s unique how even with the juggling here, Bigelow and Co. manage to give us full-blooded characters that we fear and care for.

The 2010 Academy Awards changed things up: following the disgusting snubbing of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight the previous year, The Academy decided to expand the Best Picture race from five films to ten. This lasted two years, until 2012, when it could be “up to 10.” Next year I think it’ll be 10 again, who knows. Anyways, the 10 films nominated for Best Picture were: An Education, A Serious Man, Avatar, District 9, Inglourious Basterds, Precious, The Blind Side, The Hurt Locker, Up, and Up in the Air. I (now) love most of these films (yes, I even enjoy Avatar), and it’s worth noting that it featured James Cameron and Bigelow going up against each other, and the two used to be married. In the end though, Bigelow came out triumphant. The Hurt Locker went home with 6 Oscars out of 9 nominations, which is rather impressive. While my vote still belongs to Inglourious Basterds, there simply is just no denying the greatness of The Hurt Locker. Again, I was wrong.

The Hurt Locker: A+

Best Picture

Did Win: The Hurt Locker

Should’ve Won: Inglourious Basterds

Best Director

Did Win: Kathryn Bigelow- The Hurt Locker

Should’ve Won: Quentin Tarantino- Inglourious Basterds, or Bigelow

Best Actor

Did Win: Jeff Bridges- Crazy Heart

Should’ve Won: Bridges or George Clooney- Up in the Air

Best Actress

Did Win: Sandra Bullock- The Blind Side

Should’ve Won: Gabourey Sidibe- Precious

Best Supporting Actor

Did Win: Christoph Waltz- Inglourious Basterds

Should’ve Won: Waltz, no contest

Best Supporting Actress

Did Win: Monique- Precious

Should’ve Won: Monique

Best Original Screenplay

Did Win: The Hurt Locker

Should’ve Won: Inglourious Basterds

Best Adapted Screenplay

Did Win: Precious

Should’ve Won: Precious or Up in the Air

One response to “THE Best Picture: The Hurt Locker (2009)”

  1. […] the Academy’s decisions have aged well. I did this last year, and some entries included “The Hurt Locker,” “The Godfather,” “The Shape of Water,” and others. I find this stuff interesting so […]


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