The Hurt Locker – Review

The first Iraq War film that doesn’t suck

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Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Notable Cast:
Guy Pearce, David Morse, Anthony Mackie, Ralph Fiennes, Jeremy Renner, Brian Geraghty

One of the downsides of the current Iraq War has been the dearth of movies about it and their amazing lack of quality. Hollywood has certainly lost one aspect of film-making when it comes to the war genre; it can’t provide a great story without injecting radical anti-war politics into it. There seems to be a definition of war that Hollywood wants to impress upon the cinema going audience to little avail. Some wonder where the galvanizing anti-war movement that impressed upon two Presidents to end an unpopular war over three decades ago is going to come from in the age of the internet. Me, I used to wonder when a great film about the Iraq War would come out. The Hurt Locker is it and it delivers more action and thrills than nearly any other film of the year.

Written by Mark Boal, who embedded himself with a U.S Army Explosive Ordinance Disposal team in Iraq to write the script, the film follows three men who live the proverbial life of danger. James (Jeremy Renner) is the new team leader for an EOD squad who has replaced a fallen soldier (Guy Pearce in a cameo role). James is an adrenaline junkie who gets his kicks disarming bombs and ratcheting up the danger level, sometimes to the point of endangering his compatriots. The two men covering his back are Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Eldridge (Brian Geraghty). Sanborn is the cool, collected soldier who wants to make sure his team comes home alive and unhurt. Eldridge is the young soldier scared of death, expecting every patrol to be his last. The film focuses on the last 35 days of their tour as each patrol brings with it more danger that tries their spirit. And it does one thing every war thriller this decade has not done so far: be a masterpiece of cinema.

The film runs a bit non-linear as the film jumps forward days at a time, cutting out the down time and eliminating any filler. Kathryn Bigelow, no stranger to the subject of men under duress, has crafted a 2000s version of Point Break in how it examines the human mind under the influence adrenaline. Whereas Point Break was about the criminal mind, The Hurt Locker focuses on the addictive nature of the thrill in times of war. James is someone who has found his niche in life underneath a padded bomb suit pushing the limits, seemingly loving the thrill of having 400 pounds of improvised explosives underneath him, whereas his fellow soldiers aren’t nearly as loving of it. It makes for an interesting dynamic that Bigelow explores in a conventional way. This isn’t a film where men talk about their feelings; these are men hardened by the burdens of war trying to make it through alive and in one piece. And if it was just about the dichotomy of men in times of war, it’d be a great film.

However, Bigelow’s calling card is action sequences and The Hurt Locker has the best action of the year by far. This is white-knuckle, intense action and we don’t know how it’s going to end. Characters come and go and there’s a sense that no one might survive. That’s the element of a successful action movie and Bigelow emboldens it with some heart too. We like these guys and get to know them well in moments between the action sequences. The little things that Bigelow does throughout the film which gives these characters traits we can sympathize with. Sanborn and Eldridge are men trying to make it through to the end, knowing they have a dangerous job but comfortable with it. James is not a madman or an adrenaline junkie, but a guy who has a niche and lives to do his job. Their interactions in the field, as well as in some terrific moments outside of them, make them memorable characters. All relative unknowns, they don’t carry the stigma of being famous actors or having been memorable characters to restrict them.

The Hurt Locker is a great war film, period, that just happens to take place in a war going on right now. The lack of politics makes it refreshing, as it truly is the thrill ride of the year.


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