The Hurt Locker

The Hurt Locker is one of those films that sets up a dangerous situation, then makes you wait two hours for a resolution, which never really resolves anything except to say; more of the same will follow. The start of the film is pro forma, as we all know the lead isn’t going to die in the first reel. Some one else does die before you’ve gotten to know him, and quite early in the proceedings, and that too is pro forma, as the risk element as well as the randomness of war-time deaths must be established.

Having said that, you can’t fault either Kathryn Bigelow who is a veteran of action movies having directed (among many) K-19: The Widowmaker, Point Break, and Blue Steel. Or her screenwriter and co-producer, Mark Boal, for adhering to a standard of film structure.

The Hurt Locker is a title that gives a way nothing of what the film is about. You’re not going to make the leap from seeing this title to its subject which is about a team of US Army bomb-techs on duty in Iraq working, in some cases against the clock, to dismantle, defuse, or dispose of bombs and anti-personnel explosive devices created by the enemy.

The team consists of Staff Sergeant William James played by Jeremy Renner, Sergeant JT Sanborn played by Anthony Mackie, and Specialist Owen Eldridge played by Brian Geraghty. Their job is to respond to calls needing the services of the EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) unit. In smaller roles are David Morse, Guy Pearce, and Ralph Fiennes.


The film does a great job of humanizing the three leads as they work in the most dehumanizing environment of all – war. Specialist Eldridge says, You’re here. It’s war. You will die. Sgt. James works with a bravado above and beyond. He will eschew protocol, rules, and even direct orders to facilitate the disposal of the bomb threats. And Sgt. Sanborn is effective as the team leader. We care for him as he hopes his 1 year tour of duty will end with him being alive at its conclusion. At several points in the film he will tell us exactly how many days he has left.

The film was shot in and around Amman, Jordan, and we never do feel that we are on a sound stage somewhere. Bigelow tells us that in Jordan at that time, there were about 750.000 Iraqi refugees present and she managed to cull a few superb Iraqi actors from the lot.

Mark Boal wrote the script after being an embedded journalist who actually went around with a working EOD unit. He experienced first hand a day in the life of a bomb tech. He said he was in constant fear, and he was told to think of the work as a day at the office lest his daily fears create stress disorders, ulcers, or worse.

Bigelow also described her method which was to have four separate camera units shooting many of the scenes. They’d be close in, near, mid-range, and far. This was the case because they needed closeups of the bomb-tech cutting wires, shots of the other two providing perimeter coverage, plus shots of the action from back and beyond the kill zone of the bombs.

In a desert shootout, which was very exciting, the target range was 850 yards which is around a half mile. So much of that distance was shown to us through a scope.

What makes this film so great is that it doesn’t glorify these men. Instead we watch men at work, and their job  is supremely dangerous. This is not a pro or anti-war film, nor has Bigelow politicized the story. If any thing it is apolitical despite that the real war is very political. Bigelow says that the film has neither a Republican nor a Democratic perspective.

In summation I’ll say that this film is not a walk in the park, which is obvious from its subject. It does have bloodshed, and deaths, but on a much smaller scale than say your average disaster film. Still, I’d have to say that The Hurt Locker is definitely not for you if you’re squeamish, faint-hearted, or anti-war.  Beyond that, the film is a superb, and is going to walk away with lots of awards.

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3 thoughts on “The Hurt Locker

  1. I agree Hurt Locker is great because “it doesn’t glorify these men.” Reading your post helped me understand why I liked it so much. They stayed ordinary which really helped it to resonate within me. I believe great art is unforgettable & this was that.

  2. Yes, the humanizing factor is a totally different perspective than what we might see if they were portrayed heroically.

    I think that Sgt James (Renner) had already decided to be indifferent about taking risks and chances, likely because of his marital issues.

    Thanks for the comments and the emails.

  3. I think that Sgt James liked taking chances & risks because that was what he was good at. I loved the contrast to the routine of life at home which just didn’t work for him. Risks in intimacy can be so much trickier. We are all as individual as our fingerprints which makes people/characters so interesting.

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