Review: The Hurt Locker

Review: The Hurt Locker

In Apocalypse Now, Robert Duvall declared to his men, “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.” Thirty years later, The Hurt Locker’s declaration that “war is a drug” is not a far stretch. There are 39 days left before Bravo company’s elite Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) squad finish their tour and ship home […]

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In Apocalypse Now, Robert Duvall declared to his men, “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.” Thirty years later, The Hurt Locker’s declaration that “war is a drug” is not a far stretch.

There are 39 days left before Bravo company’s elite Explosive Ordnance Disposal
(EOD) squad finish their tour and ship home from Iraq. Staff Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner) is the bomb unit’s new leader, but his recklessness worries his teammates (Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty). On their way to their first mission together, the guys try to scare their new chief; but it turns out fear is not in his vocabulary – he prefers to stare death in the face. Audiences are taken along for the ride as the clock ticks and the special unit of three men risk their lives to protect Americans and Iraqis alike on the volatile streets of Baghdad.

The film narrative is very episodic as the camera follows the soldiers from one situation to the next. The story linking segments is weak but the character analysis taking place is strong enough to overlook that aspect. The Hurt Locker is based on the first-hand observations of journalist and screenwriter Mark Boal, who was embedded with a special bomb unit in Iraq. There have been several presentations of the nitty-gritty elements of the Iraqi war, but none have provided better insight into the men on the ground and the psychology surrounding the daily risk to their lives. In the course of the film one man says, “The bottom line is if you’re in Iraq, you’re dead.”

As the film’s focus shifts to James, it becomes clear he is an adrenaline junkie. This personality trait is a benefit to his profession as the lead bomb defuser, but an increasingly significant danger to his team. He obviously cares about people, including Iraqi civilians, which is demonstrated by his constant struggle with the death that surrounds him. However, one of the most impactful sections of the film comes in the last 10 minutes when the soldiers finally go home to their families.

There is also an intriguing segment featuring a cameo by Ralph Fiennes as an ally soldier that has captured two of the most wanted men in Iraq. When a firefight with the men’s rescuers ensues, it becomes a game of patience and precision as well as a battle against dehydration. The intensity of the moment is beyond captivating.

Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker is best categorized as a movie about war, rather than a war movie. That’s not to say there is a lack of action or unrest, but more of a tribute to the fascinating character study that occurs throughout.


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