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Hurt Locker, The (2009)  Print E-mail
Theatrical Movie Reviews Theatrical
Written by Brittani Simberg   
Wednesday, 08 July 2009

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful

Film Rating:
4.5
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The conventional wisdom of the day says that Iraq War movies can’t succeed until the troops come home.  Hollywood spit them out anyway and one by one, down they went. Anything that mentioned Blackwater, Basra or the Green Zone was box office poison.  “See?” they said.  Folks have war fatigue. They don’t want to escape to the movies only to see the misery they can find at home on CNN.  Well.  The conventional wisdom is about to be smashed to pieces because The Hurt Locker is an excellent use of celluloid and people are going to want to see this thing.

The film opens with a quote by journalist/author Chris Hedges that ends with these four words: war is a drug.  Like any drug, some succumb to its seductions, some can take it or leave it and some, after one taste, don’t ever want to go near it again.  In The Hurt Locker, Staff Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner) is the guy most in need of a twelve-step program.

He joins the film after the perfect set-up for his character.  A three-man bomb disposal squad attempts to safely detonate an explosive that has been planted on an Iraqi road.  I’ll try not to give too much away, but we learn two important things from this scene – bomb work is 1) precise with specific procedures and protocol that each team member must follow to a tee and 2) very dangerous.  Into this world, enter James, the new team leader who in movie military parlance would most accurately be described as “one crazy son of a bitch”.  He is seemingly oblivious to both protocol and danger, chases the rush and loves his job.

Not surprisingly, these character quirks don’t go over super well with the two other men on his team, Sergeant JT Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty).  The relationship that develops between James and Sanborn is fascinating and complex.  Everywhere they go, everyone they meet might be someone trying to kill them and every step they take might be their last.  They don’t like each other, but they have to trust each other with their lives every minute of every day.  These are guys with polar opposite approaches to their work and the world who live in the same foxhole. Eldridge, meanwhile, is a goodhearted kid who just wants to keep the peace between them and is terrified he won’t make it home alive.

The three men who play these roles do so brilliantly.  Director Kathryn Bigelow made a smart move when she decided not to cast movie stars.  Because we don’t know these guys (I did recognize Mackie, but I needed IMDB to remind me it was from We Are Marshall) and because they do such a good job, we forget they are actors and not soldiers defusing bombs.  Jeremy Renner is stunning and I expect we will be seeing a lot more of him (he has the feel of an American Daniel Craig).

The question on the table - why does The Hurt Locker succeed where other Iraq movies fail?  A few reasons actually (aside from the fact that it’s just better).  Most Americans today do not support the war but do support the troops themselves.  The filmmakers  (especially screenwriter Mark Boal whose work here is exquisite) clearly understand this and ignore the politics of the war and focus only on the men whose job it is to wage it.  

In addition, the main characters in this movie are soldiers whose primary job is to save lives.  They don’t launch bombs, they dispose of them.  Images from Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo and countless reports of Iraqi civilians killed by Americans have forced us yankee doodle dandies to face the reality that we can no longer categorically call ourselves the good guys.  James and his team are no angels, they kill when they have to, but for the most part they’re fighting the good fight and that’s something we can get behind.

Finally, Boal and Bigelow took an important lesson from Mary Poppins – a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.   Do not mistake me.  They don’t sugarcoat.  War still sucks in this film.  But there is wry humor, great action and characters you don’t hate yourself for rooting for that make the whole war sucking thing way easier to take.

There is little to argue with in this movie.  The writing, directing and acting are all spot-on.  Bigelow shot the film documentary-style with hand-held cameras and this contributes significantly to the feeling that you are watching the real thing (if, however, you are prone to motion sickness like I am, you may find yourself a bit queasy, but just a little bit –you should still go - suck it up, it’s worth it).

Most shoot-em-ups these days feel like mediocre, slipshod, cookie cutter attempts by the studios to make bank by blowing crap up. The Hurt Locker is a tense, thrilling and thoughtful action flick that rises so far above its genre it deserves only one simple label – great effing film.







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