There was no particular reason why I hadn't watched it earlier. I liked Kathryn Bigelow's previous films, though none were truly remarkable--which is perhaps why I didn't rush out for this film when the hype surrounded it--and that continues with The Hurt Locker. Set in Iraq, the film details the last month or so of three bomb disposal personal, quickly approaching their rotation out. After the death of one in the opening scenes of the film, Sergeant William James is introduced, and Bigelow quickly establishes Jeremy Renner's character as the centre piece of her study on war as a drug, helped out by the use of journalist Chris Hedge's quote at the start of the film, "The rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug."
Unfortunately, Bigelow's entire film can be summed up in that quote, and she has established it ten, fifteen minutes into the film. This ensures that the film has all the substance of something like, oh, 'War' by Edwin Starr.
It's not that Starr's song is shallow, because that's not it's point: it's a three minute pop protest that you could play loud and it is great for that. However, Bigelow's film is not a pop song, and that's the problem with her film because, at two hours in length, The Hurt Locker never leaves the pop song mentality--war is a drug--and because of that, her film really does feel largely unnecessary.
This is actually an issue of mine with a lot of film and literature, if I were being honest. So much work can be reduced to a single, three minute pop song in its statement and intent, that I am often left wondering why it is that the artist bothered to make it. It takes months, years even, to create a novel or a film--surely you want to use that time to create something with depth? A cynical part of me believes that this is a result of the growing reluctance in publishers and studios to bankroll and promote work that is not palpable to a teenage audience who, lets face it, are not terribly interested in things that have meaning, depth, conversation, and so forth. Like I said, it's a cynical statement to make, and like most cynical statements, there's a lot of evidence to argue against it, but there's also plenty to argue for it, as well. But whatever the reason before it, the willingness of artists to sink time and money into complex, thoughtful, interesting pieces that form a dialogue between the audience and the artist is something that is becoming less and less done and Bigelow's The Hurt Locker, which received plenty of accolades, is just another in these kinds of work.
It could have been more, naturally, but Bigelow and scriptwriter Mark Boal are deliberate in their intent not to give it any substance. Any conversation about the presence of the US military in Iraq is completely and utterly ignored. The only Iraqi voice in the film is the young boy who goes by the Westernized name Beckham, which allows you to read, should you desire, any number of conservative views into the film as a whole. Personally, while I think the conservative nature of the politics is there, lurking beneath it, I don't think it is the point of the film and its use of Iraqi men and women as bombers and terrorists is, rather than something entirely unpleasant, used to portray the paranoia the soldiers feel when they are out. Since the film is so rigidly focused on the three main men, there's no room for anything but them and their perceptions. But it does remain hard to ignore that because of that the film refuses to give voice to the people whose country has been invaded and their government removed. Even the moment when Beckham is misidentified is one that could have been made into something in the film, but Bigelow and Boal, either afraid of the racism it would lead to, or because of their desire to simply not leave the one note that the film plays solidly for two hours, refuse to follow it.
When, finally, Renner's James returns home, there is a small sense of Bigelow's largely formless narrative being closed off, which is nice, but nothing new is added to the film at this point, and the question you have been asking for the previous hour--"Why am I still watching?"--won't result in anything that rewards your continual presence with the film.
It sounds like I hated the film, but I didn't, honestly. It's not a bad film, just simple, a two hour pop song for the ADD crowd, and these days, I am simply not engaged by that.