Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker is a fine 5 out of 5 movie set in the ongoing conflict in Iraq and a worthy Best Picture winner.
The movie is constructed with a number of set pieces all involving the bomb disposal team, made up of Staff Sergeant James (Jeremy Renner), Sergeant Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Eldridge (Brian Geraghty). The team must defuse bombs that have been left amongst the refuse, locked in the back of cars, and attached to people’s bodies.
Each set piece is tense because we do not know if this action will be their last. The opening scene shows Staff Sergeant Thompson (Guy Pearce) pay the ultimate price and this undertone pervades the rest of the film.
The level of mistrust and aggression between the armed forces and the Iraqis is mutual and ultimately necessary. An attempt at conciliation later in the film has consequences for one of the troops. An idle thought throughout this film occurred to me that perhaps one behaviour begat the next and both sides are in an uneasy circling of each other.
The team count down the number of days left in their active duty before they can leave for home. Sanborn is an experienced and hardened soldier who rigorously follows the processes and codes he knows and trusts to stay alive. Eldridge, still a young man, is clearly a capable soldier and has regular counselling sessions to cope with stress of his occupation. Their desperation to leave is in contrast to the Iraqi people who will not have the option to leave the conflict and rubble after their year is up.
Staff Sergeant James is highly skilled and has defused over 800 bombs. His quest for excitement and adrenalin however places himself in dangerous situations and increases the risks of his team. The film’s coda follows him home to America and reveals his true nature.
The script allows the characters to develop naturally and the action highly believable, not prone to over the top flashy sequences you might see in a James Bond film. Script writer Mark Boal was embedded with troops in Iraq and this intimate knowledge of how troops relate to each other and deal with the tension around them comes through strongly.
The cinematography too is very competently done which gives both time and space but the immediacy of these troops under fire. Of special note is some of the slow-motion film capture at 1000 frames a second.