I felt like I was there.
That is one of the biggest compliments I can give to a film and its makers, and that’s what I felt about The Hurt Locker when I screened it on June 4, 2009, and then heard director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal speak about the film.
Viewing The Hurt Locker is an amazing experience. It’s a complex film full of paradox. It’s fiction, but the screenwriter is a journalist who was embedded in a similar bomb unit in Iraq. At first glance it seems like it could be an anti-Iraq war film, but in actuality, it leaves you free to make up your own mind. It’s an edge-of-your seater and a psychological portrait. There were several times when I just couldn’t stand the tension of waiting for the next explosion…and yet it was so compelling, I just couldn’t look away. The film clearly portrays the deplorable destruction of war, but at the same time helps us to identify with the humanity of the soldiers fighting it.
This is a war film like I have never seen before. I can’t describe it in one phrase, but I can say–if you see only one war film, this is the one to see. While it is very violent (rated R by the MPAA for violence and language), the violence is neither gratuitous nor manipulative.
The title is from “soldier speak”: in Iraq, they describe explosions as “sending you to the hurt locker.” But for me, the film shows how war sends everyone to “the hurt locker.”
The story is a close and profound look at the soldiers who volunteer to do one of the most dangerous jobs in the military–Explosive Ordnance Disposal–which disarms the many mines and explosives within the war zone. No mission is routine; every mission is life-or-death–if not from the explosives themselves, from some of the population hostile to American military presence.
Company Bravo has less than two months left of their tour in Iraq when its team leader is killed. Newcomer Staff Sergeant James (in a brilliant performance by Jeremy Renner) at first glance seems like a hothead, but he’s also very, very good at what he does. Tension in the team rises as James chooses the risky route to complete missions, and team members Sergeant J. T. Sanborne (Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) despair of getting home alive.
Each man of the team reacts to the tension, violence and constant life-or-death pressure in a different way. And perhaps those of us who have not served in a war start to realize that we can never completely understand the agony and destruction that war perpetrates on the human soul.
Director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal both deserve the recognition of the Signis Award at the Venice Film Festival because of the film’s authenticity, eye-witness “feel,” complex portrayals of character, and compelling and layered story.