We watched "The Hurt Locker" on Video on Demand last night. (And parenthetically, I can see why movie theaters are having a lousy summer. Last weekend, we saw "Kick-Ass" at the upscale Arclight Theater in Hollywood. It's a great viewing experience, but tickets for two set us back a total of $32. Using the Time-Warner Video on Demand service, we downloaded "The Hurt Locker" to our cable box, and were able to watch it in high-def -- and even pause and rewind it -- without leaving our house. Total cost: $5.99. Between VOD, Netflix, and Redbox, it takes something Avatar-nifty to get people into theaters.)
"The Hurt Locker" makes an interesting bookend to the recently ended miniseries "The Pacific." "The Pacific" depicted brutal warfare, but we could feel some distance from it; after all, it was set in 1942-1945, and was filled with the atmosphere of the 1940's. "The Hurt Locker," on the other hand, is set in 2004; and involves a war that is still going on (although it has dropped from news coverage). It's hard to distance yourself from the mayhem when the soldiers are watching DVDs, playing Nintendo videogames, dealing with bombs planted in Hyundais, and fighting in an urban landscape that doesn't look that different from American cities.
The movie is a terrific piece of low-budget filmmaking. It elevates story over showmanship, character over special effects, and tension over slam-bang action. The set pieces in which the protagonists in the bomb squad encounter and deal with a variety of IEDs are all riveting, especially as the explosive devices become more and more horrifying. If the film has a flaw, it's the one my wife pointed out: Several sequences are so realistic that the scenes of obvious "drama" -- such as the soldiers' interaction in their downtime, or various character monologues -- stick out as artificial.