Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Cast: Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty, Guy Pearce, Jeremy Renner, Ralph Fiennes, David Morse, Christian Camargo, Evangeline Lilly, Christopher Sayegh
RunTime: 2 hrs 11 mins
Official Website: http://www.thehurtlocker-movie.com/
"The Hurt Locker" is a riveting, suspenseful portrait of the courage under fire of the military's unrecognized heroes: the technicians of a bomb squad who volunteer to challenge the odds and save lives doing one of the world's most dangerous jobs. Three members of the Army's elite Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) squad battle insurgents and one another as they search for and disarm a wave of roadside bombs on the streets of Baghdad-in order to try and make the city a safer place for Iraqis and Americans alike. Their mission is clear-protect and save-but it's anything but easy, as the margin of error when defusing a war-zone bomb is zero. This thrilling and heart-pounding look at the psychology of bomb technicians and the effects of risk and danger on the human psyche is a fictional tale inspired by real events by journalist and screenwriter Mark Boal, who was embedded with a special bomb unit in Iraq. In Iraq, it is soldier vernacular to speak of explosions as sending you to "the hurt locker."
In the summer of 2004, Sergeant J.T. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) of Bravo Company are at the volatile center of the war, part of a small counterforce specifically trained to handle the homemade bombs, or Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), that account for more than half of American hostile deaths and have killed thousands of Iraqis. The job, a high-pressure, high-stakes assignment, which soldiers volunteer for, requires a calm intelligence that leaves no room for mistakes, as they learn when they lose their team leader on a routine mission.
When Staff Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner) cheerfully takes over the team, Sanborn and Eldridge are shocked by what seems like his reckless disregard for military protocol and basic safety measures. And yet, in the fog of war, appearances are never reliable. Is James really a swaggering cowboy who lives for peak experiences and the moments when the margin of error is zero - or is he a consummate professional who has honed his craft to high-wire precision? As the fiery chaos of Baghdad threatens to engulf them, the men struggle to understand and contain their mercurial new leader long enough for them to make it home. They have only 38 days left in their tour, but with each new mission comes another deadly encounter, and as James blurs the line between bravery and bravado, it seems only a matter of time before disaster strikes.
With a visual and emotional intensity that makes audiences feel like they have been transported to the dizzying, 24-hour turmoil of life in the bomb squad, "The Hurt Locker" is both a gripping portrayal of real-life sacrifice and heroism, and a layered, probing study of the soul-numbing rigors and potent allure of the modern battlefield.
“The rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug.”
- From the book “War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning” by Chris Hedges
“The Hurt Locker” begins with this quote and opens quite literally on a high as it introduces us to three men of an EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) squad in the middle of a deserted Iraq street. A suspicious device has been identified, very likely a bomb, and Sgt Matt Thompson (Guy Pearce) suits up to go check it out. It can’t be comfortable- the protective suit he’s wearing weighs 140 pounds thanks to the heavy padding and temperatures are searing outside.
Around him are low-rise mud houses where locals are watching intently, some of them watching curiously and others staring disapprovingly, summing up ever so succinctly their ambivalence to the American presence. Sgt Thompson’s teammates are observing from a safe distance- Sgt J.T. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Spc. Owen Elridge (Brian Geraghty)- all too aware that the bomber may well be one of the onlookers in the buildings around them.
Some complications ensue and this prolonged 10-minute sequence ends with Sgt Thompson getting blown to bits. Such is the unpredictable nature of the work that they do and indeed the very nature of the life as an EOD member- every new day is one that they potentially will not survive. Such is also the gripping nature of director Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker”, a movie that takes you by the throat and never lets go until its last frame.
The demise of Sgt Thompson brings to the team Staff Sgt William James (Jeremy Renner), a leader whose nerveless and fearless ways are at odds with Sgt J.T. Sanborn’s more judicious methods. There’s no denying Sgt James’ skill and dexterity in figuring out what makes a bomb tick- certainly, the sergeant himself relishes the challenge. But in sharp contrast to his cooler, more level-headed teammates, Sgt James possesses a derring-do that can either be regarded as admirable bravery or plain dumb tomfoolery.
Bigelow’s visceral picture however suggests the former as she weighs the cost of the Iraq war, or for that matter, any war. Unlike the recent deluge of movies about the Iraq war, Bigelow is not interested in having you choose sides. Nor does it possess any of the high-brow morality that many of these tales attempted to tell. Instead, it contemplates realistically and genuinely the cost of war on the individual men and women on the battlefield, for whom the vulnerability of life suddenly became so crystal.
And within that prism, Bigelow distills the disposition of all three leading characters. Sgt James’ seemingly reckless ways are no more than a coping mechanism for the nerve-racking life he leads. Sgt J.T. Sanborn’s frustration is particularly compounded by how his line of duty- that of communication and ensuring the safety of his fellow team members- is suddenly made much harder by Sgt James’ rash methods. And finally, Sgt Elridge’s veneer of calm is slowly but surely worn away by the horrors he witnesses around him to reveal the nervous, troubled individual he is. Yes, each of Bigelow’s characters is as multi-faceted as it gets, bringing to light how person and situation interact to bring about different attitudes and actions to crises.
There is also a surprisingly great deal of authenticity in “The Hurt Locker”, no doubt thanks to writer Mark Boal’s taut and well-observed script. Boal, a journalist whose magazine article was the basis of another war movie “In the Valley of Elah”, spent time together with a bomb squad in Iraq and the result is a sharply written movie. Barry Ackroyd’s wonderful cinematography (he also worked on “United 93”) also brings an immediacy to the action that takes place on-screen and makes “The Hurt Locker” for the audience less like watching a movie than a closely-felt experience.
Notwithstanding the all-round excellent cast, “The Hurt Locker” is boosted by brilliant supporting turns the likes of Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes and David Morse. It says a lot to the craft of Bigelow and the caliber of her movie when thespians such as these decide to turn up for what are essentially bit roles. Indeed, “The Hurt Locker” is Bigelow’s crowning achievement, a director who’s at the top of her game balancing tautly calibrated action with finely wrought human drama.
More than just any war movie, or any action movie for that matter, “The Hurt Locker” will compel you to think long and hard about the definition of heroism in the midst of war, and also the cost of war to its heroes. Every war movie tells you that people who come back are never the same; “The Hurt Locker” will make you experience how and why war changes the very nature of our being.
(Intense and gripping- this visceral experience is one you won’t soon forget)
Review by Gabriel Chong