The Hurt Locker

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In the fall of 2007 until the beginning of 2008 there was a large body of films produced about the Iraq war, none of which were of any artistic value or garnered substantial viewers. All were hysterical but offered little or no substance, striving for the high-brow or realistic in their own simplicity but never becoming more than cold and non-committal. Thus, calling The Hurt Locker perhaps the best fictional examination of it is potentially nothing more than financial and creative suicide. However, calling it the years smartest action film would definitely not damper it’s effectiveness.

In another entry to her convoluted but never uninteresting works (such as Point Break and K-19: The Widowmaker), Kathryn Bigelow, with a script by Mark Boal attempt to tell the story of Delta Company, a unit within the American army in Iraq whose job it is to find, defuse or remotely detonate the I.E.D’s that seem to endlessly litter the embattled country. The story is rather non-existent, choosing to examine characters, their circumstances and even the region through the theatre that is created whenever they are called upon to do their job. And theatre it certainly is, whilst the bombs, which range from spider-webbed bombs on the street or garishly elegant car bombs, the crew trade glances with the Iraqis who are examining and assessing their works from windows and balconies.

Whilst each man seems to be fighting to control the overall script and with that their destinies, the three main characters each hold subtle and distinctive personalities. Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) seeks death in battle, seemingly to negate the fear that every encounter causes him and he can be considered brave and valiant. Sgt. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) is prudent and strict in his protocol, hoping that this will enable him to return home safely from the calling he seemingly loathes. Sanborn’s foil comes in the form of Staff Sgt. James (Jeremy Renner), a heavy smoker and heavy-metal fan who appears reckless in his method but merely approaches his work with the intimidating calm of a painter in his element. As he says himself, there is only one thing that seems to bring him any consistent joy and that’s his work.

Within the theatre of war, they are the central players who show everything about themselves in how they interact with the I.E.Ds and each other. Perhaps the most powerful performance comes from Renner who manages to convey different facets of James’ personality in every scene, from callousness to extreme moments of tenderness. His relationship with Sanborn rests on both the homoerotic and homicidal, perhaps best depicted when the two trade punches as a form of ritualistic affection, something that Bigelow manages to skillfully apply in a wider sense to all instances of solidarity within the armed forces.

Despite all the action, which is constant and often juxtaposed with those moments of waiting, to illustrate the often monotonous nature of war, we are given the impression that war itself is a drug, one that would lead these men to recklessly endanger lives other than their own to attain their next high. James would often seem like an ideal candidate for positive reinforcement of such a claim if it weren’t for his box of “things that almost killed him”, items that seem to bring about nothing more than utter calm and exhilaration.

Bigelow has managed to create a piece that never thinks too much of itself or its statement and thus manages to create panic, suspense and action in equal measures but more importantly causes you to think, something that the previous ilk of films based on the Iraq war were never capable of to any significant degree.

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