When I went to see The Hurt Locker, I wasn’t sure what to expect. With predecessors like Stoploss and In the Valley of Elah, it seemed that perhaps writers, directors, and America just weren’t ready for movies about a war that isn’t over yet. Within the first few minutes though, director Kathryn Bigelow blew all my reservations out of the water with a gutsy film that has extensive opportunities for Oscar nominations.
The Hurt Locker is a documentary-style film that keeps sharp focus on Bravo Company, an Army unit whose job is to detect and defuse — or carefully detonate — I.E.D.’s that are scattered across Baghdad in pre-surge 2004. The script is written by journalist Mark Boal, who used his own experience of being embedded in an explosive ordnance disposal squad in Iraq as inspiration for this film. Bigelow, who directed the cult classics Point Break and Blue Steel, shoots The Hurt Locker with four lightweight cameras, which gives it an appropriate jitteriness that adds realism without being annoying. Her gift for orchestrating violence shines because like in real war, the violence in the movie happens sporadically and without warning. This dynamic duo of Boal and Bigelow sucks you in for 131 minutes of completely satisfying edge-of-your-seat thrills and the intimacy of what it means to be brothers in arms.
The characters in Bravo Company don’t exactly see eye-to-eye. SGT J.T. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) is a calculated professional who is used to following strict protocols and procedures, hoping that caution and good judgement will get him home alive. SPC Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) is eager to please, but his nerves and hesitations weigh heavily on him. SSG William James (Jeremy Renner) is thrown into the mix after Bravo’s leader is killed. He has a rather profane sense of humor and a relaxed sense of military discipline, but there is something charming about his heavy smoking, heavy metal, and that good ol’ boy swagger in his step. Whether he is removing his safety gear to work more efficiently on an enormous car bomb or furiously seeking out hidden and connected I.E.D’s in a web of entwining wires, he looks like he was born to do this. To the dismay of his team, he pushes the boundaries between safety, hubris, and heroics for the final 38 days of Bravo Company’s rotation. James may be reckless, but he’s neither dark nor has a death wish. When a Colonel finds out that James has diffused 873 I.E.D.’s, he asks him “What’s the best way to disarm one of those things?” and James replies, “The way you don’t die, Sir.”
Though the trio may have disagreements about protocol, when things get serious, they work flawlessly as a team. One of the best features of this film is the intensity of only being involved with the three men. Other characters rotate in and out of focus, but the whole movie solely revolves around the three of them. This breaks the war down to a managable perspective, albeit a much more personal one, and thus, a more frightening one.
Renner gives a wonderful performance that is just as thrilling as the action in the movie. He beautifully conveys all the different layers of James’ personality. He seamlessly flows between being callous, charming, and fiercely intense, but always over an underlying tenderness and serenity that peeks through appropriately.
The apolitical take on The Hurt Locker is refreshing and completely necessary. Not once do any of the characters ponder or debate the reasons behind the war. From the beginning we see that this film is not about politics and all about survival — that no character is safe with death around every corner. Only once are we taken out of the docu-realism when James leaves his Company to satisfy a personal obstacle. It was probably an attempt to round out James’ character in following with the film’s opening quote by Chris Hedges that “War is a drug.” It interrupts the narrative of the story-telling and doesn’t flow with the feel of the rest of the film. Other than that, this was a damn near perfect thriller. Not only is this the best war movie I have seen in a few years, this is the best movie I have seen this summer so far — and the best chance a female directer has ever had at winning an Oscar for Best Director in the 81 years of Academy Awards history, among the many other nominations I see for this film.
I Give The Hurt Locker 5 “I left my gloves down there!” out of 5.
by Rachael Edwards