Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Hurt Locker (2008) ****½

I can’t believe I waited so long to see this. I really need to get better about watching these Oscar-nominated movies. “The Hurt Locker” is an Iraq War movie directed by a woman, so I figured it was a real talky, heavy-handed, message movie about how horrible war is, and this war in particular. It’s none of that. This is a fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat action movie that does not suck in any way.

Sgt. James (Jeremy Renner), Sgt. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie), and Specialist Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) form a 3-man Ordinance team, specializing in diffusing the improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that dot the Iraqi landscape. The work is incredibly risky, and on every job the stress level is intensified by the fact that they are watched by loads of Iraqis, most of whom are just curious, but any of whom could be an insurgent with a detonating device.

No “Best Director” Oscar has been more deserving than the one Kathryn Bigelow won for “The Hurt Locker.” In every scene she brings the viewer right into the situation. You really feel the intensity of being in this dusty, claustrophobic place, surrounded by hostile foreigners. Every scene crackles with the possibility of death.

“The Hurt Locker” is not an anti-war movie, but it doesn’t shy away from the contradictions inherent in these modern conflicts. Iraq was easy to invade, but it’s hard to hold. Tasked with rebuilding the country and keeping peace between murderous factions, our soldiers are vulnerable every minute to attack from the people they are trying to help. If they are overly friendly, they may get killed, but if they are too zealous in defending themselves, they wind up hurting some civilians, which is not only bad in itself, but fuels the insurgents‘ cause. This is more mentally exhausting for some men than for others. Specialist Eldridge is in counseling to deal with his guilt over failing to shoot a shopkeeper before the man could detonate a bomb that killed the team’s former leader. If he had hastily killed an innocent shopkeeper, however, he probably would have needed counseling for that, too.

Sergeant James, on the other hand, seems to thrive on the work. It’s like he was born to defuse bombs. In a fascinating conversation with Sgt. Sanborn, he reveals that his coolness under pressure isn’t born of any Zen philosophy or great courage; he simply has less fear than most people. Growing up, he was probably the goofy redneck always pulling crazy stunts. Back home, he’s just another guy with a dangerous penchant for risk-taking, but in war, he is in his element. Towards the close of the film there is a telling scene in which Sgt. James is back home in the grocery store, trying to pick out cereal for his kid, confounded in a way that he never was in Iraq.

“The Hurt Locker” is no message movie; it is not anti-war or pro-war. I can’t say how true-to-life it is. My friends who have served in Iraq tend not to watch movies about it. All I can say is that this is a gripping action movie that deserves a place alongside such films as “Saving Private Ryan” and “Full Metal Jacket” in the cannon of great war movies.

4.5 stars out of 5

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