When director Kathryn Bigelow's Iraq War drama The Hurt Locker opened in the U.S. in June 2009, no soundtrack album accompanied it. But as near-unanimous critical approbation led to an extended run in theaters and, at the end of the year, numerous citations as the best film of 2009 (by the critics of Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and other cities, as well as the National Society of Film Critics), Lakeshore Records finally undertook to issue composers Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders' score as an album on January 12, 2010, simultaneously with the film's DVD release and just days before the Critics' Choice Awards (at which it won Best Picture) and the Golden Globe Awards (at which it was nominated for Best Picture in the Drama category, but lost to Avatar). Beltrami has said that the composers decided the score "should conjure up images of a Western" since the main character, who heads a bomb squad tasked with defusing IEDs (improvised explosive devices) on the streets of Baghdad, has the attitude of an "independent cowboy." Beltrami and Sanders' music does bring out that feel particularly in the early cue "Goodnight Bastard" and the concluding one, "The Way I Am," which have distinct echoes of Ennio Morricone's work for the spaghetti Westerns of Sergio Leone. But The Hurt Locker is as much an "Eastern" as it is a Western, and, of course, the composers had to include Middle Eastern tones, too, which they did by using Karen Han's erhu playing. Much of this brief album, however, mixes relatively spare musical elements with sound effects. To call The Hurt Locker a suspenseful film is a serious understatement; viewers spend much of the screen time worrying that something is about to explode. The score to accompany that anxiety is necessarily an intense soundscape full of suspended strings, whiny sustained guitar lines, and industrial noise. It's an effective accompaniment to a searing cinematic experience.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann