The Hurt Locker is one of those films that came and went without much fanfare, and then when all the awards nominations began to come out, it was on just about everyone’s list as best film of the year. (It received 9 Oscar nominations.) Fortunately, it is now out on DVD.
What sets this movie apart from most other “war films” is the silence. Instead of loud testosterone-driven battle scenes, The Hurt Locker is about the quiet, intense moments that are the norm for an Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit (EOD), a squad charged with finding and defusing all kinds of bombs in Iraq. It is a three-man team and the film begins with one of their own getting blown to bits. This clears the way for SFC William James (Jeremy Renner) to take his place as the bomb-defusing specialist on the team. The two other men on the team (played by Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty) are there to provide him cover and are counting down the days until they get to go home, doing their best not to get killed. Sgt. James is not the same kind of team player that his predecessor was; he’s a lone wolf adrenaline junkie who collects souvenir scraps from all the bombs that he defuses and does not yearn to return to a quiet life stateside with his wife and kid.
Screenwriter Mark Boal’s experience as an embedded journalist in Baghdad serves him well in writing this story. And Director Kathryn Bigelow delivers some of the most tension filled scenes I’ve ever seen — not only when James is defusing bombs but also when the squad is searching for unexploded ordinance and watching out for insurgent bomb builders in a huge warehouse. There is only one real firefight which takes place in an isolated patch of desert, and it felt more real than most other movie shootouts in that our Army hero sharpshooters do not hit every shot. The three guys do ultimately bond and there is definitely some macho posturing, but it serves to define their individual characters.
As good as the other actors are, this is Jeremy Renner’s movie. It is about his journey and his Sgt. James sneaks up on you. He is more complex that you initially feel and by the end you sort of get him, despite his love of this life and death existence. This is not a movie for the faint of heart. Roosters will be into it for the bombs and buddy stuff. Chicks who enjoy a good character piece and who like edge of your seat well-crafted movies will appreciate it, too. I liked it because it was a story that takes place during a war, but was not about winning or losing. It was about the people who do the work.
Here’s a cool article about a unit in Afghanistan that does this kind of work.