This review originally appeared in Venus Zine.
Kathryn Bigelow brings the trenches to your cineplex in The Hurt Locker
A visceral film about the Iraq war that is not to be missed
By Melissa Silvestri
Published: July 8th, 2009
After a seven year hiatus from feature films, director Kathryn Bigelow (Near Dark, Point Break, Strange Days) is back, and The Hurt Locker is an explosive, gut-wrenchingly honest take on the current Iraq war, from the POV of three bomb techs finishing up a 38-day tour. The camera angles stay focused on their peripheral sightlines, allowing the audience to truly feel the anxiety and fear and quick action of the war scenes, as well as the brotherly intimacy between the three men.
The film centers around three bomb techs: the reckless Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner), the levelheaded Sgt. JT Sanborn (Anthony Mackie), and the nerve-ridden Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty). James is brought as a replacement for a bomb squad leader who was killed, and is apathetic about his position, having a “if I die, I die” attitude. Sanborn’s patience is tested again and again as James risks the safety of his squad to disable bombs in unsafe areas of Baghdad, pushing to be the hero, even if he sacrifices himself. Eldridge is panicked about being in the war, knowing that his life is truly fragile and could be taken away from him at any moment. Together, these three men form a bond that is unstoppable, taking chances every day to fulfill their missions and disable bombs for the safety of the Iraqi civilians whom they are protecting.
What stands out about this film is that there is never a lull in the action, be it a war scene or chitchat amongst soldiers. The lead characters are charismatic and relatable, it is stripped of few clichés, has moments of humor and brevity in between the chaos, and presents, via journalist Mark Boal’s script based on his time amongst bomb squads in Iraq, an accurate portrayal of the day-to-day life of war. In one scene, James and Sanborn are positioned with their guns behind a sand hill, looking to shoot the enemy. They sit for what seems like hours at a time, not bothering to swat the flies crawling on their eyes and lips, the sand and dirt crusting on their faces, and withstanding the immense heat and boredom to take down a few men hiding in a nearby shack. It breaks the audience of their preconceived notions of combat as shooting from the trenches, and displays a scene of both tense action and drawn-out tediousness.
The Hurt Locker will stand as a classic in the war film genre, with an objective view of the war, focusing more on the soldiers’ day-to-day life than saying whether the war is right or not. The leads are phenomenal standouts, especially with Renner’s truly honest performance, and it is a treat to see Bigelow return to the big-screen with her intelligent and thought-provoking style of shooting action films with grit and substance.