Review of 'The Hurt Locker'

the_hurt_locker.jpg In the Iraq War a 3-man US army bomb-disposal unit face death in the face every day. When a member of their team is killed disarming a remotely detonated bomb his replacement is Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner who you may recall from the Avengers films). Despite his extensive history in the service his relaxed attitude to risk is of concern to unit leader Sergeant JT Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) who wants nothing more than to simply survive. On his first day, Will dismisses the use of a remote controlled robot in taking care of a bomb outside a mosque, instead choosing to put on his protective suit and deactivating the bomb himself. Befriending a local boy selling pirated films at the army base his confidence is severely tested when he discovers a body…

“The Hurt Locker” is a harrowing film telling the story of some of the heroes of the Iraq war struggling to disarm often simple, but extraordinarily effective bombs (and other Improvised Explosive Devices) that would kill not only soldiers but members of the public. It is filmed in pseudo-documentary style with shaky camera moves and no narration, preferring instead to simply follow Will and the rest of the unit as they face difficult situations on a daily basis, each one seemingly more insidious than the last. The film look utterly believable. We feel the soldier's confusion and anxiety as they struggle to understand the culture and the people of the country in which they serve, never completely knowing who they can trust as it often seems any trust is brutally betrayed. We also see the unit in their down time as their extraordinarily rough play is an outlet for the high stress pressure of their job. There is often not a lot of action here but there is certainly a lot of suspense and confusion which really seems to echo what it must have been like for these brave men.

The cast are amazing and utterly convincing in their roles with no sugar-coating of the real people they portray. Jeremy Renner perfectly pitches Sgt. William James as a bit of an enigma whose philosophy and personal life is often carefully shielded, speaking little, partying hard yet intensely and obsessively focused on his job. Though his facial expression seldom strays from a blank state he seems to be able to capture the reality of the situation quite perfectly. Anthony Mackie is certainly not the focus of the narrative but also perfectly captures the role of the concerned unit leader hardened by a long tour of duty who wants nothing more than to simply life to return home.

Though it is often quite difficult to watch in parts, surprisingly, “The Hurt Locker” is not as violent or gory as you might expect though it is certainly not “Mary Poppins”. It is the tension of not knowing what comes next that is the most stressful which, it seems to me, is much the way it would have been on the ground.

An interesting and compelling story of the Iraq War without the difficult and troubling politics of the battle itself focusing instead on a unit whose goal was to simply save, not take, lives. The shaky camera thing occasionally is overdone, inducing headache that distracts rather than focuses the viewer on what is going on but otherwise, well worth a watch obvious as it is why this film won so many awards including six Oscars.

Rating: “Nearly perfect, but not quite”

Review Date: 2020-06-20

Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow

Studio: Voltage Pictures

Year: 2008

Length: 131 minutes

Genre: Action/Adventure