The Hurt Locker

The Hurt Locker

The Hurt Locker (Director: Kathryn Bigelow): I have only seen one other Kathryn Bigelow film, the oddly mis­cast Strange Days (1995), so I’m far from an expert on her work, but other crit­ics have poin­ted out that she’s a first-rate dir­ector of action sequences. The Hurt Locker is not really an action film, but it some­how is able to ramp up sus­pense and main­tain it for the entire length of the film, and so I came out of the film with the same sense of release as if I’d just seen lots of stuff blow up.

In fact, it’s the job of the char­ac­ters in this film to make sure stuff doesn’t blow up. They are the three mem­bers of an Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit in Baghdad. The team leader is the absurdly macho Staff Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner), whose pre­de­cessor was killed by a remotely det­on­ated bomb as he was try­ing to defuse it. Sergeant J.T. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) are cau­tious and emo­tion­ally scarred men just hop­ing to sur­vive the 38 days left of their unit’s rota­tion in Iraq. They don’t appre­ci­ate the reck­less­ness of their new leader, and at one point nervously dis­cuss whether they should “frag” him.

But as the days go by, his reck­less­ness seems to inspire some­thing like con­fid­ence, or at least it reduces their fear a little. We accom­pany this small group of men on their daily rounds, and the level of ten­sion never lets up. The dif­fer­ence between James and his sub­or­din­ates is that he seems to thrive on the rush of danger his job gives him. As the days are ticked off, we feel relief for the men want­ing to go home, but James never seems to change. Toward the end of the film, there is a very brief scene of him back home with his wife and infant son, and he looks com­pletely out of place. He mumbles some­thing to his wife about the need for trained bomb techs back in Iraq, as if it’s the war that needs him, rather than the other way around. The final scene doesn’t come as a sur­prise, James strid­ing con­fid­ently off the heli­copter back into the hellish streets of Baghdad, but I was glad that at least I was not going to have to accom­pany him on another bomb-defus­ing mis­sion.

Bigelow’s dir­ec­tion is excel­lent through­out, with some of the images approach­ing the sur­real, espe­cially when James is inside the spe­cial armoured suit that is meant to pro­tect him from bomb blasts. He looks like an astro­naut on the sur­face of a very dan­ger­ous alien land­scape, which is exactly what he is. Where the film isn’t so strong is in its overly expos­it­ory dia­logue. It seems com­pletely unne­ces­sary to tell us some­thing that is obvi­ous from the actions of the char­ac­ters, which is why the quote that intro­duces the film, from Chris Hedges’ book War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning is also unneeded. Sergeant James’ char­ac­ter, like many of the mem­or­able char­ac­ters from war films, seems almost like a cari­ca­ture, because he so single-mindedly pur­sues the high that war gives him. Jeremy Renner is well-cast, pro­ject­ing a square-jawed lump­ish­ness that hides any com­plic­ated thoughts he might be hav­ing. When Sanborn asks him why he doesn’t seem to be scared, he hon­estly seems not to know. He’s almost bemused by his lack of know­ledge. Perhaps there are people who are just born to fight wars.

Apart from a few short cameos, The Hurt Locker is mer­ci­fully free of “movie stars,” and it’s refresh­ing to see char­ac­ters first, rather than act­ors. All three of the lead act­ors are fine, but I think Renner will be the one we’ll be see­ing more of very soon.

Official site of the film


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2 Responses to The Hurt Locker

  1. Kelly Booth says:


    I saw this trailer months ago and have been look­ing for­ward to it…Will def­in­itely be check­ing it out.

    We should do a pod­cast together about movies! That would be fun.

  2. Pingback: Humpday — Toronto Screen Shots

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