In the Picture
The Hurt Locker
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
There are many remarkable things about this film. It is the lowest grossing film ever to win the Academy Award for Best Picture (meaning those in the industry loved it, but the public didn’t) and Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman ever to win the coveted Oscar for Best Director.
The Hurt Locker follows Bravo Company, a bomb disposal unit in post-invasion Iraq trying to stay alive in an environment where the odds are seriously stacked against them. IEDs (improvised explosive devices) are everywhere and everybody on the street is a potential threat.
When squad leader Thompson (Guy Pearce) is killed, he is replaced by the gung-ho Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner) who immediately gets off side with his colleagues, Sergeant J. T. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty), for his cavalier and reckless actions.
There is a quote at the beginning of the movie about the rush of battle being a potent drug, and Sergeant James is seriously addicted. He gets off on the adrenaline of being in situations that most of us would find repugnant.
The Hurt Locker was written by Mark Boal, a journalist who was embedded with a US bomb squad in Iraq and it absolutely oozes authenticity.
What I like about this film is that there is no real back story for the characters and no political landscape about the merits or otherwise of the war – it’s just about the circumstances these men find themselves thrust in to and how they deal with it. It’s set in Baghdad, where the men have 39 days to go in their rotation before going home, but it could be about soldiers anywhere in any war.
It works as an edge-of-your-chair thriller as Bravo Company is called in to examine suspicious objects and then we watch nervously as Sergeant James follows the wires and defuses the danger. He is hailed as a hero and a “wild man” by some, telling one colonel that he has defused 873 bombs in his army career.
But it is the uneasy relationship between the three main characters who depend upon each other for their very survival that drives this film. And while it works on many levels – giving a soldier’s perspective of life on the frontline in Iraq – I still wanted more. I wanted someone to ask the question ‘why are we here?’ and I wanted to see something from the Iraqi perspective.