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The first female to win the DGA’s top award for directing The Hurt Locker is addicted to action films; this one tells the story of bomb disposal specialists addicted to war. Andrew L. Urban reports.

War is a drug … at least for some. For them, it’s addictive. Listening to war reporter Mark Boal talk about this phenomenon after his reporting tour of Iraq, filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow was immediately engaged. “He told me stories about men in the army who disarm bombs in the heat of combat – obviously, an elite job with a high mortality rate. When he mentioned that they are extremely vulnerable and use little more than a pair of pliers to disarm a bomb that can kill for 300 meters, I was shocked,” says Bigelow in her Director’s Statement for her film The Hurt Locker.

“When I learned that these men volunteer for this dangerous work, and often grow so fond of it that they can imagine doing nothing else, I knew I had found my next film.” Bigelow has become the first woman to win the Directors Guild of America’s top award for her work on The Hurt Locker – and the film has earned nine Oscar nominations; as many as James Cameron’s Avatar, the year’s hot favourite.

"The ‘war is hell’ is a genre of it own"

The ‘war is hell’ is a genre of it own, a vast genre that stretches back to the beginning of cinema, from films like Birth of a Nation in 1915, the first English language war epic, to this year’s Oscar nominated The Hurt Locker. (Opens Feb. 18, 2010)

In this story, written by Mark Boal and based on his first hand observations on the battlefield, we are taken inside a small (and typical) bomb disposal unit in Iraq. When Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner), arrives to replace a soldier killed in an unsuccessful disposal operation, his two subordinates, Sergeant J.T. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) find they have more than the enemy to contend with. James appears to be indifferent to death and refuses to follow the rules. He seems driven by his fearlessness – or maybe it’s his addiction to war.

Important support roles are played by high profile actors like Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes and David Morse. The multiple Oscar nominations in the various crafts points to the exceptional care Bigelow and her team took to make a film of rare precision and insight. Every scene is crafted with care to ensure veracity and impact. It’s like being there … sometimes almost too much so.

Bigelow isn’t new to muscular films: she produced and directed K-19: The Widowmaker (2002), about the malfunction aboard Russia’s first nuclear submarine, starring Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson; she directed Blue Steel (1989), starring Jamie Lee Curtis as a female rookie in the police force engaged in a cat and mouse game with a pistol wielding psychopath who becomes obsessed with her. And that was followed by the action thriller, Point Break (1991) with Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze.

"her most acclaimed film"

While The Hurt Locker is her most acclaimed film, with dozens of nominations and awards already presented (including four awards at the prestigious Venice Film Festival, where it was also nominated for the coveted Golden Lion), the youthful 58 year old brunette has won awards for Blue Steel, Strange Days (1995) and the poetic horror film, Near Dark (1987).

For her next movie, Triple Frontier, Bigelow is again working with writer Mark Boal and it’s another heavy duty action adventure, this time set on the notorious border zone between Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil where the Igazu and Parana rivers converge — making “la triple frontera” difficult to monitor and a haven for organized crime.

Published February 18, 2010

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Director Kathryn Bigelow


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