The Hurt Locker is pretty damn good, I want to get that out of the way up front. Despite my prior service, I usually avoid military movies given the cliched and message-bound nature of most of them. The glowing reviews I’d read convinced me otherwise about The Hurt Locker; director Kathryn Bigelow has a strong record of thoughtful action movies including Point Break and K-19: The Widowmaker (which I didn’t see due to my previously mentioned distaste for the genre). Going in I expected some non-mindless action against the backdrop of war-torn Iraq, and I was not disappointed.
The story sounds familiar: a new platoon member swaggers into a military unit and makes a splash because of his maverick ways and disregard for “the rules.” Sound familiar? In this case, the unit is an Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal team – the unlucky souls who have to defuse the improvised explosive devices plaguing the troops in Iraq. This film is interestingly apolitical (at least from my perspective – perhaps I’m a raging liberal now that I am of the unemployed persuasion); the situation appears pretty grim for all involved parties: the U.S. soldiers, the Iraqi citizens and the members of the militant resistance. The relationship between the EOD teams and the citizens is particularly intense, as everyone in the vicinity of an identified bomb is a potential ignitor, and thus they are in danger of getting their ass shot by the EOD guys if they make any questionable moves.
The story is narrowly focused around three main characters – James (Jeremy Renner), the new squad leader, who joins the unit and flaunts his disregard for Army standard procedure, prefering a wild west approach to disarming various big-assed bombs. His right hand man is Sanborn (Anthony Mackie), a rule-abiding sergeant who is nervous about surviving the 30ish days they have left in Iraq under James’ adrenaline-charged direction. Specialist Eldridge (Brian Geraghty), is the most junior member of the team and is riddled with a combination of guilt and fear. The whole premise of the movie is “Will these guys survive their final thirty days in Iraq?” The movie is pretty intense; even the male bonding sessions have an edge to them – you won’t really relax until the credits roll.
The acting is uniformly excellent among the three leads; they maintain an uneasy comraderie despite different perspectives/motivations as to what they are doing and why. The story mostly focuses on James, an atypical rogue who doesn’t seem to be looking for external validation or glory for his heroic/risky efforts. It’s unclear what his motivation really is – nine times out of ten in this type movie it’s Some Tragic Event From My Past. James’ epiphany is pretty perfect, I won’t say more than that. Overall, an extremely interesting take on the relationship between fear and the things you hold most dear in life (and how the latter can differ dramatically from one person to the next).
The script, from a writer who spent time imbedded with a unit in Iraq, was solid – the dialogue wasn’t forced or overly acronym-laden. Some of their leisure activities (kicking each others asses) didn’t quite ring true to me, but perhaps that’s because I spent my time on a submarine, where we mostly lounged in our smoking jackets, drinking lattes and eating crumpets. Apparently, the script was intended for Renner and it shows; he is destined to become a tentpole character soon. There are a few other familiar faces that pop up, including Guy Pearce and that dude from St. Elsewhere, but the story centers on the bomb unit. They actually filmed the movie in Jordan, and it was apparently 110-115 degrees. Wearing a 100 lb lead suit in 115 degree weather shows real dedication to your craft.
It’s ridiculous how thinly distributed this movie is – even in NYC it’s only showing at like three theaters. I saw it in the same backhallway theater (seating capacity: 30) of the megaplex that I saw The King of Kong at. It’s a shame that people pay their $12 to see garbage like Transformers II and a quality “action” movie like The Hurt Locker is relegated to the local indie theater. Go see it, you will enjoy it. (On the off chance you enjoyed Transformers, you still may like it because stuff blows up and stuff)