Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker is a viscerally exciting film about a three-man bomb disposal team during the Iraq War. Produced and directed by Kathryn Bigelow, the film stars Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, and Brian Geraghty. The screenplay is written by Mark Boal, a freelance writer who was embedded as a journalist in 2004 with a U.S. Army Explosive Ordinance Disposal team in Iraq.
Bigelow is fascinated with exploring “the psychology behind the type of soldier who volunteers for this particular conflict and then, because of his or her aptitude, is chosen and given the opportunity to go into bomb disarmament and goes toward what everybody else is running from.”
Principal photography begins in 2007 in Jordan and Kuwait, within miles of the Iraqi border, to achieve Bigelow’s goal of authenticity. Iraqi refugees are used for extras, and the cast works in the unmistakable heat of the Middle East, with temperatures averaging 120 °F (49 °C) over the 44 days of shooting. Initially, Bigelow wants to shoot in Iraq, but the production security team cannot guarantee their safety from snipers.
Describing her approach to the film, Bigelow wants to immerse audiences “into something that was raw, immediate and visceral”. Impressed with cinematographer Barry Ackroyd’s work on United 93 (2006), Bigelow invites him to work on her film. Ackroyd and his camera team use four hand-held Super 16 mm cameras to capture multiple perspectives, often simultaneously.
Chris Innis spends the first eight weeks editing the film on location in Jordan, before returning to Los Angeles, where she is joined by Bob Murawski. They have to assemble the 200 hours of raw footage described by them as a “hodge-podge of disconnected, nausea-inducing motion that was constantly crossing the 180-degree line“. The editing process takes over eight months to complete, conveying a brutally realistic portrayal of the realities of war, using minimal special effects or technical enhancement.
The Hurt Locker premieres at the Venice Film Festival in 2008. After being shown at the Toronto International Film Festival, it is picked up for distribution in the United States, a year later.
The film is met with nearly universal acclaim, with Renner’s performance receiving special praise from critics.
At the Academy Awards, the film is nominated in nine categories, winning six Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director (the first woman to win this award), and Best Original Screenplay. Although being profitable (grossing $49.2 million against a budget of $15 million), The Hurt Locker is the lowest-grossing film to have ever won Best Picture.