Aside: WOOOO KATHRYN BIGELOW!
The Hurt Locker opens with Specialist Eldridge, Sergeant Sanborn and Staff Sergeant Thompson out on a daily task. As members of an EOD unit, they are assigned to defuse bombs in Iraq. Thompson is the guy who puts on the suit and defuses the bomb. Sanborn and Eldredge hang back and provide cover against any threat. The assignment goes tragically wrong. Thompson dies and Bravo Company is assigned a new leader, Sergeant James.
Sanborn is appalled by James’ behavior. James seems reckless, refusing to stay in communication with the two guys covering his back, going against standard operating policy and putting the unit in what Sanborn feels is unnecessary danger. Eldridge worries obsessively over his own fate and safety. The constant thought of death occupies Eldridge’s mind, leading an Army psychiatrist to set up regular sessions with him.
The only other person has any emotional connection with is a young Iraqi boy who calls himself Beckham. As Bravo Company’s time in Iraq dwindles to a close, what the three men want out of life and how they intend to live it is thrown into sharper focus.
The Hurt Locker moves fast and goes long. Most of the shots are close and tight; Bigelow directs with a sense of urgency and tension that grows as the film progresses. There are a few beautiful moments in the film that are atypical, to be sure. When Thompson is killed by an IED, Bigelow shoots in slow-motion the ground rumbling and the dust moving off a rusty, bombed out car.
The message of the film is right in the title cards: war is a drug. Some like it, some don’t. Eldridge desperately wants to go home alive and nothing more. Sanborn comes to realize no one would care much if he died. It eats at him. He professes a deep hatred of Iraq.
It is James, the “reckless”, “unstable” guy who can’t get enough of war. He enjoys his job, taking souvenirs of bombs not only as tokens of times he nearly got killed but out of genuine interest in how bombs are assembled. He struggles to do what he believes is the right thing even if he forgets to weigh the cost in human lives at times.
The Hurt Locker is well executed and smartly crafted, but it also examines the stress of this war in particular. Disarming bombs is dangerous enough, but the EOD unit must contend with snipers, remote bombers, and realizes everyone on the street may be against them. And how do people react to war? Some think it’s hell, some hate it and some really and truly appreciate their jobs no matter how dangerous. It’s a frightening thought, but Jeremy Renner does a masterful job of portraying Sergeant James as a guy initially perhaps unable to cope with his need to do the job he does who manages to reconcile it in the end. The tension and differences between Sanborn and James against the war-torn city they work in is part of The Hurt Locker‘s strength. Bigelow’s sensitivity toward James is compelling, given that it’s easy to take that character and simplify him in such a crude fashion, but James is given depth. Jeremy Renner creates a guy who can be unsympathetic and at times obnoxious, but you understand why he does what he does.
A fantastic film. It earned its Best Picture nom. I can’t say the award, since I haven’t seen all of the ’09 nominees, but damn, it’s a great film.