Review: The Hurt Locker

Though there have been a few attempts to quickly turn over a good film about the Iraq War or a similar conflict (“The Lucky Ones,” “In the Valley of Elah,” “Jarhead,” “The Kingdom”), none achieve on so many levels and try to capture the true experience of today’s soldiers like “The Hurt Locker.”

Former embedded journalist Mark Boal (who wrote the story for “Elah”) captures the spirit of this particular war with his story about a team of bomb diffusers who work with IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices). The story mainly focuses on one bomb specialist, Sgt. Will James (Jeremy Renner), who enters the picture after the team’s beloved Sgt. Thompson (Guy Pearce) dies on the job. James is highly skilled, but also totes an action junkie attitude that creates tension between him and his fellow squad members.

What will unfortunately surprise a lot of people watching this film is its director, Kathryn Bigelow. If you have any doubts of a woman’s ability to make a Grade A action film than throw them out the window. Bigelow, who also directed action cult favorite “Point Break” and the okay film “K-19: The Widowmaker” paves the way for women action directors with this excellent film. She sets a precedent for what today’s war film should look like with the raw, camcorder style that gives “Hurt Locker” its realistic, documentary feel. Screw the awing cinematography of “Saving Private Ryan,” the Iraq War is not to be glorified by the camera in any way, especially considering it’s still going on.

Other war films dabble in the glory of war, the traumatic effects it has on its soldiers and its many other evils, but “Hurt Locker” dares to consider the temptations, the allure of war despite its disastrous affects. Its main character, James, is certainly troubled, but not because of seeing death or risking it every time he tries to diffuse a homemade C4 bomb — it’s because he needs the adrenaline rush of feeling like he’s doing something dangerous and important.

To Bigelow, that is the defining characteristic of this war and James embodies it. He alone at times is the sole cause of action and tension in the film. We think to ourselves that he’s in a dangerous situation with a bomb threat — then he takes his protective suit off and the intensity is magnified. In that way, Bigelow plays off our own desire to see action and suspense. It would be a whole lot nicer if the guys stayed out of trouble considering they’re set to be sent home in less than a month’s time, but it wouldn’t be exciting. James mirrors our own action fetishism in that way, and herein lies the film’s true excellence.

“The Hurt Locker” is an interesting film and the first originally poignant piece of cinema to be attached to the Iraq War in a way that makes a statement that films embodying Vietnam or World War II haven’t already made. It’s unknown cast is talented and helps keep the film much more realistic. There’s something about seeing actors that are too well known in war films that instantly glamorizes it and detracts from its impact.

To boot, there’s a lot of great suspense and action. Scenes where nothing ultimately happens put us on the edge of our seats because they’re well set-up. The soldiers’ paranoia among other things translates well to an audience unaware of the true dangers of the Iraq War and highlights what makes this time significant in our history compared to any other. This is the kind of movie that could be used as a means of understanding the Iraq War years and years from now, especially in terms of grasping the perspective we had before it was even over.

4.5/5 Stars

Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow
Written by: Mark Boal
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes