“That’s spoken like a wild man”
While reading about the new Kathryn Bigelow film The Hurt Locker, I found it very interesting that people were saying how it really doesn’t have an anti-war sentiment. I was always under the impression that it would be another liberal propaganda-driven message movie like all the others coming out recently. To my great surprise, they were exactly right. Rather than use the war to tell people already against it to protest, Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal decide to use Iraq purely as a backdrop to the real subject matter at hand—war itself. Plain and simple, war is hell, but it is also a drug each soldier feeds on, an adrenaline rush that makes him wake every morning to see what may happen. We are thrown into the action as Bravo Company’s bomb team has just 38 days left in rotation. Let’s just say the day doesn’t end well and the final month has its ups and downs showing the world what is going on over there—the pressure, the friendships, the duty, and the loss.
The authenticity is astounding throughout. I know people will gripe about the shaky camera style, but that lends itself to the realism and puts you into the action of this bomb squad under the cowboy antics of leader William James, played by Jeremy Renner. He is a recent addition, replacing the team’s last technician after a tragic accident involving a bomb and an Iraqi cell phone. It would appear that he has a death wish, going into situations without recon and letting his emotions get the better of him every step of the way. He does have a girlfriend and son back home, though, and the compassion a father has comes out at times, especially when dealing with a young Middle Eastern boy named Beckham selling DVDs and playing soccer. James uses his sense of humor strangely, telling people he’ll chop their heads off or some other such nonsense with a straight face before smiling, saying he’s just kidding, and rubbing their head. His carefree attitude may seem cavalier, but by the end of the film we will realize what makes him tick. He is doing this for his country, filling a job in high demand with the US army, a job he’s damn good at.
The other two members of his team don’t necessarily share his laidback demeanor. As another soldier says later on in the film, this team is wired tight. Anthony Mackie’s JT Sanborn is a by-the-books guy, holding the safety of his men above all else. He is willing to have a good time and can drink, punch, and joke with the best of them, but when it comes to a live bomb out in the middle of a street, he wants you with your radio on, listening to what he has to say. When a surrounding area has been evacuated and he asks James to pull back, letting the engineers take over, he wants to be listened to. Renner’s technician is not that kind of guy, though. He sees a puzzle and he wants to solve it, almost admiring the bomb creator whose work he is dismantling. Unafraid to give his Sergeant the finger and continue with his work, headphones and bomb suit off—Specialist Eldridge right next to him in the blast zone being told to fall back by Sanborn but having to stay since James is the commanding officer—he lives for the excitement at the edge of life and death.
As for Eldridge, played by Brian Geraghty, who is used to the desert having been in Jarhead, he is a young novice on the team, never having seen a dead body, never having been in a firefight, and yet here he is putting himself in the way of active bombs that could blow him to pieces. A boy that isn’t quite able to shake the fear of death, nor the thought that being in Iraq means he already is dead, Eldridge is visited often by a Colonel, who is also a psychiatrist of some sort, helping him through the war. Their relationship ends with devastating effect that resonates from Geraghty’s performance despite being an obvious result when watching the sequence leading up to the event. It really is the performance by each of these three leads—Renner, Mackie, and Geraghty—that makes The Hurt Locker as effective a tale as it is. Eldridge may keep his demons on his sleeve throughout, but both James and Sanborn keep theirs hidden until they can no longer. Both do brilliant work at expressing the inner fears and desires, especially those dreams they aren’t sure they’ll ever be able to fulfill.
A lot of credit must be given to Bigelow for getting all the pieces together and crafting a very effective war film. It is character-driven throughout, hinging on the audience believing that these men are in life or death situations each and every day. She opens the film through the eyes of an Army bot, calling to memory the first person filming in—what is my favorite film of hers—Strange Days. Her credibility as a director also allowed her to not only get a cameo from that film’s star, Ralph Fiennes, but also a couple small, scene-chomping appearances from Guy Pearce and David Morse. And while many will label Bigelow as a man’s director, doing action and testosterone-induced work, you can’t deny her delicate care in expressing the human psyche. Whether it was more she or the actors themselves, especially Renner and Mackie, I don’t know, but they really go all out here. It isn’t even just the fight scenes or the high-pressure anticipation of a bomb going off; no my favorite moment is when Renner goes off camp to seek revenge for something he believes occurred. He is alone, without his uniform or equipment and only a sidearm at his disposal, wandering the streets of Iraq. Just the matter in which he has to return to base shows how on edge everyone is. This isn’t a videogame played by faceless automatons, no, war is most definitely hell. It’s being fought, win or lose, by people just like us, full of aspirations and dreams we just hope we’ll live long enough to see come to fruition.
The Hurt Locker 9/10 | ★ ★ ★ ½
 Anthony Mackie in THE HURT LOCKER, directed by Kathryn Bigelow. Photo credit: Joanthan Olley.
 Scene from THE HURT LOCKER, directed by Kathryn Bigelow. Photo credit: Mark Boal.