The Hurt Locker
“If I’m going to die, I’m going to die comfortable,” Sergeant James says as he removes his spaceman–like, bomb repellent helmet and suit in the Iraqi heat before attempting to defuse a car trunk’s worth of bombs in director Kathryn Bigelow’s tense Iraq War drama “The Hurt Locker.” Sergeant James, an expert at defusing bombs, has been transferred to Bravo Company to replace a bomb specialist killed in an explosion. James takes unnecessary chances but, by his own count, he has defused 873 bombs. When asked about the best method, he replies that it is the kind where you don’t get killed. It quickly becomes apparent that for James this is more than just a job. He enjoys it too much.
“The Hurt Locker” is very effective due to its ability to create sequences that ratchet up the tension, let it go, then ratchet it up again. Much of this comes from the implicit question: “Will James defuse the bomb or get blown up in the process?” There is also the story of the soldiers securing the area where James is working. These men have to deal with the paranoia that anyone on the street or watching from a roof-top, or from anywhere, may try to kill them (and in some cases it is not paranoia). Add in the problem of the American soldiers not knowing the language. Factor in the smart casting of lesser-known actors so that there is no movie star who can be counted on to save the day. On top of this the film itself becomes a ticking clock as super-imposed titles let us know how many days Bravo Company has before it can go home and we keep hoping for these guys to make it. In addition there is Bigelow’s wonderful eye for detail: a limping cat crossing the street, a fly crawling across the eye lid of a soldier aiming his weapon, spent shell casings spinning in slow motion. For a movie to maintain the relentless level of tension that “The Hurt Locker” does throughout its 130 minute running time, sequence after sequence, is nothing short of great filmmaking.
There are three performances that stand out especially. First there is Jeremy Renner whose poker-faced performance as Sergeant James hints at, but shrewdly does not spell out, the psychology driving the man. Anthony Mackie is very authentic as Sergeant Sanborn, a man who does his job well but sees no need to take the “gung ho” chances to which James subjects him. Sanborn wants to go home and start a family but above all is concerned that if he dies no one will care. I also liked Christian Camargo as Colonel Cambridge, a desk-jockey-therapist who tries to reassure one of the men about the dangerous circumstances the soldiers face, resulting in Cambridge deciding to go into the field himself.
The one thing that pulled me out of the movie was Ralph Fiennes’ cameo. Fiennes’ presence clashed with this fine cast of “lesser-knowns,” the “movie star light” blinking above his head. In contrast David Morse and Guy Pearce have roles but blended so seamlessly with the cast that I did not even know they were in the movie until the end crawl.
“The Hurt Locker” is a compelling, pulse-pounding portrait of soldiers in an impossible situation. It is a movie best seen on the big screen. Do not wait for home video for this one.
The Hurt Locker, director Kathryn Bigelow, 2009,
Summit Entertainment, 130 minutes, rated R