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The Hurt Locker (2009)

"Before viewing" talks don't have spoilers, but since there's no "After viewing" talk for this one, comments may have spoilers. More»» by Randy Heffner

Is the film worth your time?

Three quite different men; three different experiences of war. The Hurt Locker takes us inside a fictional Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team — a bomb squad — in Iraq. I can understand complaints from veterans of the Iraq war that the film has numerous military inaccuracies, yet I can forgive such failings. Not because “it’s a movie,” but because by compressing some details, the film brings to the surface other truths of longer lasting concern. The film’s primary questions surround soldiers’ relationships with the war and with each other. What risks should one soldier take to protect the life of another? What risks to further the goals of a mission? How can a soldier deal with the guilt of making a choice that goes bad? How can a soldier deal with not just the death and dismemberment of friends, but with even greater horrors of war? Serving to protect and defend others is courageous and honorable, but what’s the chance that serving — whether for honor or for the adrenaline rush — might become an addiction?

By avoiding questions about the wisdom of the conflict in Iraq, The Hurt Locker is able to get inside war in a substantial and personal way. The three main characters embody three peoples’ responses to war but, more to the point, they embody three responses that are likely mixed inside many individual soldiers: fear and insecurity, caution with courage, and bravado mixed with a true heart for the mission. In its exploration, the film implies a particular danger: that bravado by itself, separated from the merits of the mission, might turn war into an end in itself. In her direction and in his screenplay, Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal have excellently portrayed an even-handed exploration of the three responses. Each of the leads — Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, and Brian Geraghty — superbly portrays their particular response. The film’s depth of exploration brings us closer to a human understanding of war, making The Hurt Locker well worth the time invested.

Staff Sergeant William James arrives to Bravo Company, an EOD team, to replace Staff Sergeant Matt Thompson, who was recently killed while dismantling a bomb. As the senior member of the team, James pretty much runs things his way, to the dismay of the other two members, Sergeant JT Sanborn and Specialist Owen Eldridge. Eldridge, being the least experienced of the three, is fearful and unsure. For his part, James has a reason to run things his way: His role on the team requires him to get closest to the bombs, putting his life in the most danger. On the other hand, his choices may — sometimes clearly do — put Sanborn and Eldridge in more danger than is necessary. What plays out is an intricate exploration of the motivations, relational dynamics, and self-discovery of the three soldiers. Running time: 131 min.

It’s a war movie. There are many intense sequences, shootings, and explosions — yet not so many deaths. In a few sequences, the horrors are brought close to the screen, including one sequence that is particularly painful to see. As is typical with soldiers, the language is colorful throughout.

  • Director: Kathryn Bigelow
  • Screenplay: Mark Boal
  • Leads: Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty
  • Cinematography: Barry Ackroyd
  • Music: Marco Beltrami, Buck Sanders

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