The Hurt Locker (10/10)
by Tony Medley
Run time 131 Minutes
OK for children.
I didn’t see this
originally because I’ve seen movies about bomb demolition squads and
didn’t like watching people I have been influenced to care about trying
to disconnect a wire to a bomb that will blow them to smithereens as the
sweat breaks out on their brows and the clock is ticking down. I’ve had
enough of those.
However, when this was
nominated for Best Picture, I felt I had to see it, and got a pleasant
surprise because this is a very entertaining war movie.
Mark Boal was an
investigative journalist for Playboy Magazine who, in 2004, was embedded
with a unit of the army’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal squad for three
weeks. He used that experience to write the screenplay that got the
attention of director Katherine Bigelow, with whom he had worked when
she developed a TV series around an article he had written.
The result is a riveting
film about people who do something most would consider insane,
dismantling live bombs. Although there is some of the wire cutting in
the film, the movie is really about Sgt. First Class William James
(Jeremy Renner), his personality and motivation, and the way he gets
along with the other members of his squad, especially Sgt. JT Sanborn
(Anthony Mackie), and they, him.
This isn’t just about
defusing bombs. There is a scene where James’ squad is ambushed in the
desert that is starkly reminiscent of William Wellman’s brilliant scene
in “The Story of G.I. Joe” (1945) where an infantry squad is attacked by
a sniper in a tower. There is no dialogue, but for at least five minutes
the squad tries to get the sniper. Wellman who fought in World War I,
produced one of the best war scenes ever filmed. I can’t say for sure
that Bigelow was influenced by this scene, but it is eerily evocative,
realistically capturing what it’s like to be attacked by an almost
unseen sniper and how professionals go about getting him.
Renner gives a terrific
performance as the cocky bomb-dismantler who risks his life every time
he dons the protective suit to approach some unknown ordnance in or on
the street. Throughout the movie I kept telling my friend, “This guy’s
crazy.” But there are people like that. John Hersey wrote a
Pulitzer-Prize winning novel about them called “The War Lover” in 1959
which was made into a Steve McQueen movie in 1962. To people like Buzz
in “The War Lover” and James in this movie, the thrill of tempting death
is the elixir of life. Wellman drew on his experience as a combat
veteran to film his scene (which he repeated in his 1958 film, “Darby’s
Rangers”). Unlike Wellman, Bigelow hasn’t fought in a war. So the
realism of her scene, and the entire film, are all the more remarkable.