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The Hurt Locker (2009) ****

November 23, 2009


Written by: Mark Boal (In the Valley of Elah)

Produced by: Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal

Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow (K-19: The Widowmaker, Point Break)

Rated R (for war violence and language)

U.S. Release Date: June 26, 2009 (limited)

What in the world is The Hurt Locker?  The tagline of Kathryn Bigelow’s newest film says it best, “You’ll know when you’re in it.”  I’ve resorted to using this very line when being asked by friends and acquaintances, “Another movie about Iraq?  Then what’s ‘hurt locker’ mean?”  As an audience member, ‘the hurt locker’ means sweaty palms, heart palpitations, and very sweaty palms.  For Sergeant First Class William James and the Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit working in Baghdad, Iraq, ‘the hurt locker’ is something to the tune of constant life-threatening scenarios, explosives galore, and the ever-present threat of a sniper’s bullet.  The audience definitely gets the better end of the deal.  I’m proud to say, I survived Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker, and all I came out with was a pair of very sweaty palms.

Sergeant First Class William James (Jeremy Renner) is the new team leader of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) unit, a division of the U.S. Army Bravo Company.  James’s three-man team’s responsibilities include going into areas where the Army has identified an enemy explosive, and defusing or getting rid of the bomb while seeing that no one gets hurt.  Not only is the trio at risk of dying in a blazing inferno, they are left vulnerable to an ambush, a sniper’s bullet, or an onlooker (the bombs are usually found in dense urban environments) detonating the bomb.

James (very well played by Renner) has a bit of a pompous “I can do whatever I want” attitude that ends up getting his team into more life-threatening situations than are needed.  The EOD team faces a full day sniper standoff in the middle of the desert, a nighttime foot race in downtown Baghdad, and countless “eeny-meeny-miney-mo” scenarios when choosing between the red wire and blue wire.

One aspect of war that Bigelow explores in good detail is what happens to a soldier upon returning home from duty.  In some cases, war spurs a man on to settle down and start a family.  On the other hand, some arrive home and realize that they no longer have anything in common with the civilian life.  After living several years filled with adrenaline, being “regular” is simply not an option.  I’m not saying that I think soldiers who fall into this category no longer care for their families or friends back in the U.S., but their families and friends have no idea what life is like on the other side.  Their lives have simply gone in separate directions.

As a pairing with The Hurt Locker, I highly recommend a viewing of Oren Moverman’s The Messenger.  Moverman’s film could, in many ways, be a continuation of Bigelow’s.  Both are shot in a very raw, handheld-style that plunges the viewer into the reality that is being lived out by the characters on screen.  The characters in these two films have close camaraderie with their fellow soldiers, yet feel completely alone.  Upon return to their homes, they are reunited with loved ones, yet feel completely alone.

In regards to The Hurt Locker, this is the type of film that should be awarded for excellence in writing, acting, and visual storytelling.  I will not be surprised if I see both Bigelow and Renner move on to bigger things in the years to come.

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