July 20, 2009 / by zac
In and around Iraq during our skirmish over there since we went to war in the country, the enemy has been getting more and more crafty with there techniques at trying to kill American soldiers. One efficient way they have been able to do that is by planting bombs on the side of roads and what have you and detonating them once there are enough casualties to go around. In The Hurt Locker, we get to follow around a team of specialists who are brought in to do the riskiest work in the field and that is to diffuse the bomb without blowing it themselves or letting some observing detonator do what they were meant to. The team we get to follow consists of three men, Sgt. Bill James who is the bomb man, Sgt. JT Sanborn and Specialist Owen Eldridge who spot and protect the situation as best they can while making sure nobody detonates the bomb while they work. We pick up with them only having around a month left to go before their tour in Iraq is over and Sgt. James is thrust into their squad after the loss of their previous bomb man. The film hits the ground running along with James who dives into every situation he is put in with almost reckless abandon, but he quickly proves he is very capable at what he does.
This serves as an adequate set up for everything, but the film isn’t all about diffusing bombs and the fight that comes with it. In between we get a peek into these soldiers’ lives, these young men being thrown into an almost ridiculous situation and the effect that it has on them. Specialist Eldridge is constantly being tracked down by the bases resident psychologist as he deals with his inability to protect his previous commander when it mattered most. Sgt. James struggles with his personal life back home where he has a newborn kid but doesn’t know the status between him and his child’s mother. Sanborn grapples with his feelings over James and his cowboy attitude of doing things that might get him killed sooner than he would like to do to James’ gung-ho nature. These plots all work to varying degrees but each doesn’t work just as much as it does. Sanborn’s irrational thoughts that crop up from time to time are a bit too much if you ask me and it makes it seem disgenuine when he and James buddy up in the heart of battle. But maybe that is the way it is, and probably should be, showing how many soldiers have problems with one another but have to put it all aside when in the hear of battle for the betterment of themselves and their squads.
The bomb diffusing set pieces will easily distract you from some weak character arcs and instead will enthrall you with the intensity and insanity of what these soldiers go through. With about six extended sequences involving the squad out in the field, you will find yourself clamoring for more every time we get away from it. Especially after the film rolls off the first four almost back to back over the first hour of the film. In fact it makes you wonder if the material was weak or simply just not nearly as interesting as we anticipate the next call to action for these soldiers. The film could have used some editing in the second half of the film as it meanders into redundant and a bit unbelievable territory. The characters motivations to do what they do towards the end makes some sense character wise and why they are upset, but logically they would have to be idiots to run into danger in a way they are unaccustomed too. But maybe we are supposed to take James’ bull headed drive to do whatever comes to him as reason enough to risk themselves as much as they do, but I had a hard time buying to James’ decisions that left his squad once and himself the other time seriously at risk and exposed in a situation they couldn’t control.
Dicey decisions written for the character or not, Jeremy Renner shines as Sgt. James and helps bring to life the really great parts of his character. For the first half of the film, Renner perfectly captures the insanity, humor, and balls it takes for someone to do what James’ does. Running in with a grin on his face and the feeling of fun flowing through him, Renner lights up the screen as he tears into these bombs and that’s not to say that he doesn’t handle the non bomb stuff well either. He creates a convincing confused soldier that is torn with what he should actually be doing with his life, it’s the films pacing and length that hurts any of those scenes. Anthony Mackie also shines here as Sgt. Sanborn, and is able to overcome some weak writing around his character. Mackie is tough, direct, and to the point, with him bouncing off Renner perfectly as the two get into time after time over their differing opinions. Brian Geraghty also does a good job rounding out the squad as the soldier dealing with the loss of a fellow soldier and doing a great job at bringing the mentality and indecision from failing to pull the trigger to every scene as they are thrown into hostile conditions. The film is also full of a number of cameos and brief work for some really fine actors. Guy Pearce is funny and quite commanding in an early scene. David Morse pops up for some needed humor to break the tension as a commanding officer. Ralph Fiennes steals his scene in his brief time on screen as a British soldier or mercenary, they aren’t ever really clear but I think it was a mercenary.
In the end, The Hurt Locker is a mostly engaging and thrilling trip through the lives of three American soldiers in the Iraq war. While the film may drag a bit in the second half and meander into not quite convincing territory for some of its character arts, it always makes up for that with it’s thrilling bomb/action scenes. Jeremy Renner and Anthony Mackie both make breakout turns among a number of great appearances from some great actors. Will get your heart pumping and put you on the edge of your seat, this is the most effective Iraq War movie to be released yet and it does so without pandering to be a political message. It just shows us what life might be like for some extraordinary individuals that go out everyday risking their lives to save those of their fellow soldiers diffusing bombs as their job. See it for the set pieces, Renner, Fiennes, and Mackie and because it is one of the more solid war movies to roll across our plates in the last few years.
The Hurt Locker is a B