War Is a Drug in 'The Hurt Locker'
Right at the start, superimposed text reveals the theme of “The Hurt Locker”: War is a drug.
And while the film is ostensibly about a bomb squad tasked with disarming bombs planted in roads, bundles and other more disturbing places in Iraq, the film is really about what happens in the minds of the soldiers under the effects of the constant adrenaline rush inevitable in the war zone.
Each of the main characters responds to the stress, and the body’s reaction to such, in a different way.
Bravo Company is in the last month of its rotation when the bomb squad team members lose their beloved leader. Enter cocky cowboy Staff Sgt. William James.
The other two team members, Sgt. JT Sanborn and Specialist Owen Eldridge are instantly disconcerted, because the new guy runs roughshod over protocol, seems more interested in showing off than being a good team player, and appears to reduce their chances of getting out of Iraq alive.
James has, of course, another side, one that helps him protect his comrades and think clearly in high stress situations. But which side will appear, at any given moment? That’s one of the mysteries that adds to the suspense throughout.
The storyline is a bit episodic. Each bomb encounter is like a small film unto itself. But it’s the relationships between the characters, as well as their individual emotional relationships with the war itself, that propel the film forward.
While the film deals with the violence of war, for the most part, the violence happens off-screen, or fuzzily, at a distance. There is, however, one scene that may disturb. This is definitely not a film for children, although a child plays a significant role in Bravo Company’s last days.
The soundtrack to the film is nontraditional, often made up of nothing more than the low roar of helicopters, the staccato of gunfire, or the myriad noises of people trying to go about their daily lives, which are constantly impeded by the soldiers as they try to clear bombs from the streets to protect Americans and Iraqis alike.
It’s nice not to know what’s coming due to some musical queue in an orchestral score. The lack of such a score added to gritty reality of the film.
Jeremy Renner’s performance as James greatly enhances the film. He is likeable and abominable at the same time, steady or insane at others. Emotions storm across his face. It’s hard to watch anything else when he’s on the screen.
Anthony Mackie plays the cool, professional Sgt. Sanborn, the perfect counterpoint to the conflicted James, with intelligence and heart. The third member of the team is played by Brian Geraghty.
Bigger name actors, such as Guy Pearce and Ralph Fiennes, play cameo roles that serve the story in surprising ways.
The writing is so natural you almost forget there was a writer. The cinematography really gives you the feeling of being in the desert. The pacing and suspense will keep your heart pounding throughout. The direction is top notch.
The film should win a number of Oscars on Sunday at the Academy Awards and is a top contender for Best Picture. If you haven’t seen it yet, you should.
Unlike most films these days, this one will haunt you long after you have left the theater. Because if war is a drug, how can we end the addiction?
Lisa Pease is a historian and writer who specializes in the mysteries of the John F. Kennedy era. She is also a movie buff.
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