The Hurt Locker
August 8, I met Henry Osier to see the latest film dealing with the Iraq
war, "The Hurt Locker". In fact, this low-keyed, very realistic movie
deals with the verities of wartime as seen though the lens of a
conflict making unprecedented use of booby traps, such that Explosive
Ordinance Disposal (EOD) has had an importance unseen since the days of
the World War 2 Blitz.
It is 2004: the movie opens as an EOD team is working on a suspected
bomb, or IED (Improvised Explosive Device), disguised as a pile of trash
along a Baghdad street. The scene is enough to inspire paranoia in the
strongest: any pile of trash can hide a bomb, and due to the failure of
services, the streets are lined with piles of trash. Any curious
onlooker could be the one with the trigger in his pocket.
When Staff Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner) arrives to take over
an EOD team traumatized by the loss of their leader, there is almost
immediate conflict. James is a veteran "bomb tech," an Army Ranger, and
his hands-on daredevil style of operation combined with his obsessive
nature, does not sit well with the men who are detailed to try to keep
him alive (Anthony Mackie as Sgt. Sanborn, and Brian Geraghty as Spec.
Although some bonding occurs, it is a sign of the honesty of this movie
that issues get worse before they get better, and some are never
Indeed, there are a number of aspects about the story that seem honest
and realistic. For one thing, not every mission is disarming traps. The
team is called to a warehouse to pick up a cache of munitions on one
occasion, and on another to visit the scene of an explosion to determine
if it was an accident or not. One of the most tense and grueling
sequences of the movie is when, returning from a mission, they are
pinned down by enemy fire, and must engage in a sniper duel. For
another, not everything the heroes try works: James' passion for his job
includes catching bombers if he can, as well as foiling the bombs, but
he doesn't speak Arabic, understand the culture, or know the city, so
his efforts don't succeed.
The story is unrelenting about the danger level and toxic stress the men
are under, and underscores that, in war, very few come away unwounded,
whether in body, mind, or spirit.
Very, very well done. Fine performances by all the principals. Shot on
location in Jordan, the movie looks real, and seems mostly technically
accurate (although one can see that there are some things about
bomb-making one would not want exposed in a mass-distribution movie--).
It is, of course, very violent in a realistic wartime fashion, although
there is surprisingly little gore. The tension level is very high.
There's no sex, but the characters express themselves in the often crude
fashion expectable of soldiers in their situation. Only suitable for
adults prepared to seriously consider the effects of war on human
beings; for those, I recommend it.