‘Hurt Locker’ gives Venice a jolt

Bigelow film follows elite bomb squad in Iraq

VENICE — The Iraq war dominated the day at the Venice Film Festival, where the world preem of Kathryn Bigelow’s high-adrenaline bomb-squad actioner “The Hurt Locker” gave the Lido a jolt and emerged as the Iraq pic that may break through to American auds.

“We represent something that’s very different from any other Iraq war film that we’ve seen so far,” producer Greg Shapiro told Daily Variety on Thursday.

Shapiro has high hopes of closing a U.S. distribution deal at the Toronto Film Festival for the war drama, which received a 10-minute standing ovation after its Lido screening.

The story follows an elite Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team operating in and around Baghdad.

Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty star as the death-defying defusers, with Ralph Fiennes putting in a cameo as a mercenary. Guy Pearce also has a small role.

The indie pic, which was shot in Jordan and was produced by Shapiro and Nicolas Chartier’s Voltage Pictures, goes out in Italy via Warner Bros. on Oct. 10.

At the packed news conference, Bigelow, who is the only woman helmer in the Lido’s 21-title competition, called “Hurt Locker” “a very topical film about an underreported war.”

But politics are really peripheral.

“My interest was to give this conflict a human face and to enable the audience to actually experience what a soldier experiences, based on personal observation from the battlefield,” she said.

Journo Mark Boal, who was embedded with an EOD team in Iraq in 2004 and penned the screenplay based on that experience, called “Hurt Locker” “primarily observational, as opposed to polemical.”

“It’s almost a dirty little secret of war that, as horrible as it is, there are some men who, through the intensity of the experience, come to find it alluring,” Boal said.

Shapiro acknowledged that the market for Iraq war films is very tough.

Paul Haggis’ “In the Valley of Elah” and Brian De Palma’s “Redacted,” which both preemed in Venice last year, sparked little interest with auds. Boal also wrote the material on which “In the Valley of Elah” was based.

“Hopefully this film presents the war in a new and a fresh way that people haven’t seen, so we’re hoping that perhaps that will break the trend in America,” Shapiro said.

Slotted just as Toronto opens, “Hurt Locker” provided further proof that Venice topper Marco Mueller has backloaded the fest, which lacked firepower during the first week.

The Venice fest ends Saturday.

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