War is a Drug
On the face of it The Hurt Locker is about a group of bomb disposal marines posted to Baghdad, about the difficulties working there and the heroic deeds that this group of men do on a daily basis. Under the surface the film shows how dangerous clashes of personality can be under these stressful situations, how difficult it is for soldiers to disengage from the army when they return to their families, and that to people of a compulsive nature war really is like a drug.
Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner) is the new appointment to take charge of a three-man bomb squad which also consists of Sanbourne (Anthony Mackie) and Elridge (Brian Geraghty). Whereas Sanbourne had a great rapport with his previous team leader, James is very much a loose cannon. There is instant conflict between the reckless James and the serious Sanbourne as James puts everyone at risk by doing his own thing, disregarding normal protocol.
By concentrating on just a few characters, the film is able to really develop their relationship. The thing is that you don’t know what Renner’s character is likely to do next because he is so reckless; this leads to some very tense moments. Adding to the tension is the steady cam work; most of the film is shot alongside the soldiers, putting the viewer right in the action. By being in with the troops, combined with lots of quick zooms and edits, the film manages to convey the confusion of the squad as they desperately try to quickly read every situation; because anyone could be a bomber. There are also many shots of the marines from behind buildings, railings etc all adding to the claustrophobic feeling that the troops must have in the city centre.
I’ve only ever seen Renner before in The Town. He was good in that film, but he was only ever playing second fiddle to Ben Affleck. In The Hurt Locker Renner is very much centre stage, and he’s very good. For the most part he is an arrogant adrenaline junkie, but he does have his more heartfelt moments; and having experienced his character out in the field the viewer can really relate to how he feels at the end of the film when back home with his wife and son. Especially when faced with a bewildering choice of food in the supermarket. Mackie and Gerahty are also very good supporting actors, and the dynamic between the three is consistently believable.
A very enjoyable film, concentrating on what is presumably a largely forgotten aspect of war. Emotionally acted, dynamically shot, and a very engaging story. Well worth a look.