“Going to war is a once in a lifetime experience. It could be fun.”
In The Hurt Locker, written by Mark Boal and directed by Kathryn Bigelow, we see a firsthand account of the Iraq War, perhaps as close as many of us will ever be. Whether or not it’s a completely accurate portrayal of the war matters less because it’s a portrayal of three individual American soldiers’ experience, and one in particular, played by Jeremy Renner, who seems to get off on the gamble his job as a bomb deactivator confronts him with on a daily basis. As Sergeant William James, Renner has a crazed look in his eyes as he approaches each mission. The Hurt Locker plays on some level like a video game, where each day is a new setting in which our players face new threats in unfamiliar locations.
[the following paragraph contains an early spoiler:]
Bigelow keeps it on a cinematic level though, and early on sets a tone of urgency and danger by killing off the first "bomb tech," Sergeant Thompson, played by Guy Pearce. Because Pearce is a recognizable actor, we don’t expect him to die so suddenly (although the build-up in the opening scene renders the outcome inevitable), and when this happens we know that the movie isn’t going to operate by many if any genre rules. As James and his fellow soldiers Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) approach each mission, we wonder if this is it for any and all of them.
Despite the uneasiness we experience, the movie lets us breathe at times too, and also lets us feel what the characters are feeling. We have time to catch a glimpse of the paranoia that sets in for the soldiers, who never know who they can trust. At certain moments it begins to feel like Bigelow is playing with us, but she’s playing with them too, and it really does feel like the Russian Roulette scene in The Deer Hunter, which is a movie that screams “I am an important film” where The Hurt Locker stays silent.
At the beginning of the movie we are greeted by the following quote by author Chris Hedges: “The rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug.” For more effect, that last part is left lingering by itself before the black screen disappears and we are immersed into the world of our heroes. It’s sort of irritating when movies declare their message at the beginning, even more so when they feel the need to underline it further, but it sets a tone, and follows through on that message very much so. It is unlike the other war movies I have seen; there’s a lack of grandiosity that makes it all the more effective and resonant. ★★★★