The Hurt Locker is a surprising film. Centring on a three-man bomb disposal unit working in Iraq in 2004, the film excites your emotions at the same pace as war: long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror. Except that boredom is definitely not the right word.
“The rush of battle is a potent and often lethal addiction, for war is a drug.” This quote, from the book War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning by war correspondent Chris Hedges, sets the tone of the film straight away.
As the film opens we are invited into this small unit, with Guy Pearce playing the leader in a short-lived cameo. We see the unit working well together, mutual respect underpinning the macho banter. Pearce is presented as a natural leader and it is a shame when he explodes ten minutes in.
Pearce is replaced by Sergeant First Class William James (Jeremy Renner), a veteran of Afghanistan and, apparently, a loose cannon. James’ actions on his first mission worry the other two members of the unit, who see his actions as reckless.
Ignoring the immediate tensions arising from attempting to disarm volatile explosives in a hostile environment, most of the drama is initially generated by the members of the unit rubbing against one another. James is portrayed as a bit of an adrenaline junkie, albeit highly trained and effective, whereas the other two prefer the slow and methodical approach.
So that’s the easy part to explain. The story continues from there with no particularly surprising twists in plot. What is harder to describe is the way James’ macho actions develop his character. He is not a caricature of a braindead, muscle-bound US Marine, he is clearly a well-developed character with his own motivations. What exactly these motivations are we can only guess at for most of the film.
The cinematography is either effective or stunning. Slow motion scenes of bullet casings falling, or dirt rising from the ground in the initial shockwave of an explosion, are eerily beautiful and provide a twisted counterpoint to the desolation and devastation the city displays.
The acting is flawless. At no point during the film did I question the characters or their actions, everything seemed natural and real. Renner is brilliant as James and special mention must go to Brian Geraghty as Specialist Owen Eldridge. His emotional turmoil provides an outsider perspective and shows us the effects of war on a typical American kid.
It is somewhat surprising that this film is directed by a woman, as the characters are quite intensely male, as is the entire feel of the film. Kathryn Bigelow has captured something real in this film, something that surpasses the subject matter.
4.9/5 See this movie.