There are many kinds of war films. Those that celebrate the heroism of men and women who rise to the occasion and those that examine the absurd event that is conflict; those that glorify the gory action on the ground and those that question the human event in its bloodiest hour. The Hurt Locker manages, quite impressively, to check off all of the above and then some. It is a heart-stopping thriller set amidst the modern quagmire that is Baghdad that never lingers long enough to feel preachy yet manages to suspend you in moments of extreme tension for what seems like eternity. In other words, it’s a bad ass good time.
Director Kathryn Bigelow, probably most well known for the 1991 surf action film Point Break, decided to stem the intellectual deconstruction of the war in Iraq that has hampered most recent attempts to bring the conflict to the big screen. Instead, she has no bones about making a first rate action thriller. The opening scene alone, in which a radio controlled robot breaks just before it can detonate an IED, is worth the price of popcorn. If you can’t handle it straight away, leave the theater.
In need of a new Bomb Tech on their team, Sergeant JT Sanborn and Specialist Owen Eldridge find themselves under the command of Staff Sergeant William James. James is a reckless cowboy who rarely lets the others in on his half- cocked plans as they traverse Iraq in search of bombs. The relationship that the three form is complicated to say the least. In Sanborn we find a rationalist who offers us a moral grounding. Eldridge is more complex, a man- child thrown into the war probably trying to prove his strength.
But the most interesting character is certainly Sergeant James, played with boyish bravado by Jeremy Renner. Acting as if he is an army of one, James always seems to come out in one piece no matter how stupid his plans seem to be. As soon as we feel we know him and understand his motivation, he goes and does something even crazier. Not quite a patriot nor a mercenary, his character slowly unravels and we begin to see an incredibly strong deconstruction of modern masculinity. I don’t want to get into the details because it is the little things in this movie that become shocking to you as it progresses.
Ms. Bigelow has done what many of Hollywood’s biggest guns have failed to do: make an interesting film about Iraq that people will actually watch. Steering clear of political statements, she has crafted a solid character study amidst the most important international issue our nation is embroiled in. It’s the Iraq movie we have been waiting for, but we hardly notice that fact as we wipe the sweat from our brow and stand up from the edge of our seat.