FILM REVIEW – The Hurt Locker

By Joseph Viney

The Hurt Locker Poster

War is hell, as they say. As time progresses and military technology becomes sharper and more devastating the chances of getting equal footing on an already rocky battleground are receding further and further away.

Presently the news and other outlets are dominated by war; invasions, genocides and the myriad consequences of those actions. The social zeitgeist is laden with sympathy for ‘Our Boys’. National pride in the armed forces, misplaced or otherwise, is steadily climbing. A nation duped into war now has to suffer for it.

So what the hell am I talking about? No, you haven’t logged onto the History Channel’s website nor will I eulogise on the foreign policies of the world’s leading nations (we’ll save that one for another day…)

It’s an absence of politics that makes The Hurt Locker such an engaging film. Instead of watching a stiff in a suit (probably played by Morgan Freeman) stroll up and down the corridors barking at assistants we’re given insight into the real battles being fought.

The film stays close to one group in particular, a team of bomb disposal experts who are regularly called upon to detonate improvised explosive devices (IED).

The film’s focus is a welcome change. More often than not the audience is treated to the story of the mythical crack-shot snipers, the maverick assassin or the gung-ho pilot. Bomb disposal is work you only hear about when deaths occur. Never are we made privy to the gritty and no doubt terrifying job they perform. Here is a little known fact for you; roadside bombs and other explosive devices are responsible for over half of military deaths and also the deaths of thousands of civilians in Iraq.

Set in the summer of 2004, we join Bravo Company, headed by Sergeant J.T. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty). They soon learn that their job leaves no room for mistakes when their team leader dies on a mission.

The void is filled by the reckless Staff Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner). His colleagues are shocked by his disregard for basic safety (removing armour in a war zone for one) and dismissal of military protocol.

The film poses an intriguing question; in the heat of battle and the confusion of war, how deceptive are appearances and how can they be taken into account?

Is William James really a reckless madman or a razor sharp professional confident in himself and his team? Is he a man addicted to the adrenaline rush he brings upon himself or a nihilist with a death wish?

With the team counting down the days until their latest tour of duty is complete they struggle to understand their new leader’s motivation. Desperate to return home or to simply leave the front line, each new mission presents a potentially fatal encounter. William’s constant flouting of convention puts his men in more and more danger and soon the line between bravery and bravado is blurred. Surely it is only a matter of time before a real disaster strikes?

Some critics have deemed The Hurt Locker as the greatest war film since Platoon. What sets these two films apart is their respective use of realism.

Platoon has Charlie Sheen, currently neck and neck with Keanu Reeves in the Wooden Actor’s League, playing the role of naive boy wonder and Tom Berenger as the evil Barnes. It’s pantomime stuff when compared to The Hurt Locker.

The Hurt Locker contains a very distinct visual intensity which you could easily fool somebody at times into believing they are watching a documentary, such is the strength of the performances and the tempo of the action. As a viewer you feel strong pangs of sympathy for soldiers and civilians alike who are currently resident in what seems no less than a constant nightmare.

The film is perhaps the most realistic representation of modern warfare. We see both sides of the coin; the soul destroying tedium and fear that permeate throughout as well as the almost perverse allure of the battlefield.

This is certainly not a good advert for the armed forces. Any lingering ideas I had about joining have been well and truly vanquished, but only the most miserable of cold hearted of us will not feel for the sacrifice and heroism currently being conducted in far-away lands.

If it was not made clear, then I can only reiterate how heartily recommended this film comes. It’s an exciting and visceral work that will provoke many a discussion amongst filmgoers.

9 OUT OF 10


Filed under Film

3 responses to “FILM REVIEW – The Hurt Locker

  1. Marty Mulrooney

    Great review Joseph. I couldn’t agree more! The interesting thing about this film is that, rather than being a mere war film, it strongly focuses upon the mentalities of men and their need to live up that label in the first place.

    Also, I love how the two big name actors present in the film only have a few minutes of screentime between them… I have a feeling Jeremy Renner will be gracing our screens a lot more in 2010 after this performance.

  2. Thank you, a good read.

    I recently watched the film but am still quite unsure what to think about it. I am certainly anxious to speak about it with another filmgoer. I can say that perhaps what I most like about it were the strong character portrayals. The film more observes Sanborn and the rest of the team so the viewer never gets into their head (this in part probably causes the occasional documentary feel you mention). Instead hopefully we are lead to some thinking of our own. The Hurt Locker provides no ready answers, which is ultimately what lends this film a lot of its lasting appeal and conversational value.

    • Joseph Viney

      It’s best that it provides no answers. One review I read said the major downfall of the film is not asking the question “Why are the troops there?”

      I disagreed with that entirely. We have news, Newsnight, Question Time, newspapers etc to dissect the political machinations of the war. Too often we overlook the human cost of this debacle.

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