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Thursday, January 21, 2010

MOVIE REVIEW - The Hurt Locker

About halfway through The Hurt Locker, Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner) stumbles upon a crude bomb workspace with a locker standing between two desks. There is no mention of it by the characters. They don’t open it, hell, I don’t think they even look at it. I can assume there are only bomb parts in that locker, thus making it a candidate for the film’s title. Of course the real hurt locker is present-day Iraq, but I have to wonder if that ominous locker was placed for its own aesthetic metaphor. It may sound pretentious, but it’s these same nuances that make The Hurt Locker the masterpiece it is.

Sgt. William James becomes the new team leader of an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) unit. His teammates deem him reckless in his search for adrenaline—In contrast Sgt. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) is extremely by-the-book with the way he handles bomb tasks, and Spc. Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) lives every day in fear of death. The disparity between James and Eldridge is the most interesting comparison of today's soldiers. Whereas James will march in to a wired car without any protection, Eldridge is constantly seeking counsel from commanding officers. The film begins with a quote from journalist Chris Hedges, "The rush of battle is a potent and often lethal addiction, for war is a drug." This line becomes the crutch of James’ character, and it’s a crutch that scares the hell out of me.

Going back to the EOD’s infiltration of an insurgent bomb facility, James finds himself with a dead body-bomb in which he believes was a child he befriended earlier. Whether it is the child or not becomes a mute point as James continuously searches for more reasons to enter combat. This is a side of reality I’ve always been interested to see explored. So few movies touch on the soldiers who know nothing but war. Sure, First Blood was built on that, but it didn’t retain the believability that The Hurt Locker does. It’s not that James is a bad person. He’s not a warmonger or a ruthless killer by any means. In fact he may have fired the least amount of weapons in the entire movie. He simply only knows how to acknowledge his existence in the battlefield.

Along with the near-maddening mentality the characters ooze off the screen comes a tension unmatched by most films of the last decade. Prepare to chew your arm off as a frustrated James scrambles to defuse a car bomb while more and more on-lookers gather. Any of them could hold the detonator. Any of them could have planted the bomb. But no one knows for sure. It’s maddening that this is the type of combat that goes on today. Such knowledge only increases the nails-on-a-chalkboard suspense that crosses from the screen to your gut.

Oh no worries. Your stomach gets a break from all the punching the movie gives you now and then. (Amusingly, our main characters play a “manly” game of hitting each other in the gut that seems to embody what the movie is doing to its audience.) But when the last minute of the movie spins to Sgt. James’s destiny a far more terrifying realization hit me. He’s necessary. In a world with such insane venues as Iraq, this fictional character is a must. And then, perhaps just as scary, I become at ease with the idea that people like him exist. Should I? Don't know. Maybe I feel safer or maybe I'm just glad its not me out there.

With this fixation on William James, I can’t say The Hurt Locker is specifically about the Iraq War. It’s even possible the title refers to any battlefield a man stands on, but I won’t proclaim the movie is, “just about war.” Such a cliché undermines its value. Rather, The Hurt Locker stands for warriors—Warriors of today and their mentality during battle. They might be scared or they might be fearless. They could feel empowered or they might appear powerless. They might not like each other, but they’ll live with each other. The Hurt Locker doesn’t stand on a side of the political fence it worries about the modern day American soldier. If this film is any indication their job isn’t as easy as looking for a sign that says “bad guy” and squeezing the trigger. Nope, when the smoke clears, The Hurt Locker feels more like a horror picture than a war flick. Perhaps that’s an indicator of its realism. I’d have to go to Iraq to know for sure. Watch this movie and let me know if you're up for the trip.

**** out of ****

1 comment:

Ryan said...

hey good review on this, i want to see it now. i know it has gotten good reviews but i'm now officially interested in it. even though you liked up in the air. i'll let that slide. ;)