The Hurt Locker Review


Real suspense is hard to achieve. It’s easy to throw in a shock or two into a film to keep the audience on edge. To sustain that feeling over a prolonged time is a challenge, but it’s something Kathryn Bigelow achieves in her uncompromising war film The Hurt Locker. Director after director has attempted to tackle the American wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but Bigelow is the first to get it right. This is a brilliant film that will leave you absolutely breathless.

If the opening seconds of The Hurt Locker (which tell us war is a drug) are true, nobody is more addicted than Will James (Jeremy Renner). He’s a bomb tech serving in Iraq who’s dismantled over 800 IEDs. He’s also a wild man. He doesn’t follow any rules and is not at all afraid to put his life in danger; In fact, he enjoys doing it. He and two other soldiers, JT Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty), serve together in the Bravo unit. Sanborn is by-the-book and thinks James’ renegade tendencies might get somebody killed, while Eldridge can’t think about anything but death. He is regularly visited by the military doctor who wants him to make the best of his time in Iraq, but he constantly questions why he is there and why some men live and others die. The three men form an uneasy partnership trying to defuse bombs for the next month until their rotation ends and they can go back home.

The story, if you even want to call it that, is basically a series of missions, each different and more suspenseful than the last. We observe the three men dismantling various IEDs, getting involved in a shoot out in the desert, uncovering a body bomb, and (in perhaps the film’s best scene) trying to save an innocent man attached to a bomb. Some might find it difficult to connect to the film because there isn’t really a narrative arc. As good as each of the scenes are individually, they don’t build to anything. But Bigelow handles everything so precisely and intensely that if you forge any connection at all with the film, you don’t be able to disengage for a second.

Jeremy Renner gives a truly eye-opening performance as James. He loves taking chances and fears nothing. As the film proceeds, we realize he has a heart (he takes a liking to an Iraqi boy named Beckham), but it belongs to his job more than anything or anyone else. Anthony Mackie gives a subtler but no less effective performance, and his character, unlike James, changes a great deal over the course of the film. Brian Geraghty is also quite good as Eldridge, who fears death on every mission but gains courage through his friends.

Easily the film’s biggest asset is its incredible direction. Bigelow makes the important decision not to politicize the film. It’s the kind of movie that should be appreciated on both sides of the political spectrum, for its message isn’t that the war is amoral, but rather crazy; It’s a brutal, life-sucking entity that changes people and forces decent men and women to do terrible things. With the recent news of another escalation of troops in Afghanistan, it’s message is also very timely. How many of those 30,000 men an women will end up as a Will James? Or an Owen Eldridge? How many of them won’t have the luxury of learning what kind of soldier they will be?

Overall, this film more than overcomes its lack of a plot trajectory to deliver a suspenseful, authentic, and brutal look at war and its psychological effects on those involved. It can be hell for some; addictive for others (one could probably say the same thing about the film itself). But whatever camp you fall into, it’s probably safe to say The Hurt Locker, with its powerful acting and direction, is an experience you won’t quickly forget.

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