At the Movies with Alan Gekko: The Hurt Locker “08”

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: War Drama/ Stars: Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty, Christian Camargo, Ralph Fiennes, David Morse, Guy Pearce, Evangeline Lilly/ Runtime: 131 minutes

I feel it must be said that ever since movies became a medium both to entertain and educate the world around us, war has always been a hallmark of the movie world. Indeed the world of Hollywood in the aftermath of the Second World War felt compelled to conjure up quite a few films in this genre that would honestly be absolutely nothing like any that came after it. This was because, in addition to feeling too clean, and distant from the horrors that war brought, some of the more popular and regarded, while they are masterpieces, really didn’t lie to the movie-going public per se, but they still didn’t manage to truly show war as it actually is. However, given the cost of World War 2 on the United States and, to a larger extent, the world, it isn’t exactly surprising that this would be the case. By the time in the aftermath of the Vietnam War however, a lot of movie makers were throwing out this rule book. Yet while the amount of violence on screen did go up significantly, a lot of the better films from this era including Full Metal Jacket, Platoon, and The Deer Hunter did not focus on the physical cost of conflict, but rather on the psychological toll that a war could have on a person instead. Now we come to the here and now and, rather than choose to focus a spotlight on the seemingly never-ending conflict in the Middle East, movie makers have chosen instead to turn back to past conflicts yet make films about them that are edgier and way more brutal like Saving Private Ryan or The Patriot for example. Yet it is that aspect that makes The Hurt Locker so unique. That is because this is a film which not only shows the modern era crisis in Iraq, but also showcases it through a look at a bomb squad, for all intents and purposes, and their day-to-day as well as the toll both physically and psychologically such an assignment can bring in a manner that is not only amazingly well-done, but that is both gripping and downright horrifying at times to watch.

The plot is as follows: The Hurt Locker takes us back to the War in Iraq, but more specifically the year 2004 where we tragically pay witness to an explosives ordinance disposal unit horrifically see its bomb tech lose his life to a random bomb going off. It isn’t long before his replacement arrives in the form of a Staff Sergeant William James. James, we quickly ascertain, has been doing this for a while and is quite good at it too. Yet Mr. James also has a wild side to him; a side that is addicted to the thrill and fear of death to the extent that he chooses to use reckless abandon and other such methods in his handling of the bombs thus showing he cares little about either he or his teammates’ lives. It isn’t long of course before these methods are clashed with by his fellow officers, a Sergeant JT Sanborn and a Specialist Owen Eldridge due in no small part to the fact that they are due to head home soon and would like to go back alive AND in one piece. Yet although there can be no denying that, to the extent of over 900 explosives diffused, James has always been able to keep peoples’ physical bodies intact, it isn’t long before his reckless abandon begins doing a number on his teammates’ already dinged up psychological and emotional health and it isn’t long before we see just how reality-based the phrase “War is Hell” truly can be for 1 man who lives for the thrill that only combat can bring him and for 2 men so close to going home yet still so far away….

Now the plot for this particular film may seem relatively simple and straight forward, but that is because as the movie goes along, we as audience members come to realize this film isn’t about the narrative. Rather, it’s about the characters, the nightmares that come with war, the psychological toll that can come with being near both death and the chance that you might die, the repetition of being in combat day-to-day, the uncertainty of what could or could not occur whilst in the field, and the unique and individual way that each soldier chooses to help them handle what went on during the time wearing the uniform. Indeed this is a film which provides audiences more with a group of interlinked stories rather than one A-Z straight line narrative due to being more concerned with showcasing the more significant subtexts involving the soldiers and their pathos, psychological, and physical well being that the film works on both developing and showcasing throughout. Indeed I do not know of many war films let alone films period that can say they are as draining from an emotional standpoint as this one is. Indeed even though the audience is able to get to understand just who these guys are due through the repetition of their job in the film, the trio of main characters are still built up enough so that eventually the audience will see themselves in at least one of them as they manage to go through the extreme anguish both physically and emotionally that the director, to say nothing of the horrors of conflict, has put into this film.  Thus instead of being just a witness watching from the safety of your home, the audience actually, in a sense, becomes another member of the team. A feat that enables us, regardless of the safety of where you choose to watch this, helps you come to embrace the agony, witness the terror, feel like you are on cloud 9 with the adrenaline rush, and ultimately to comprehend just how precious life is and how agonizing combat can be in a war zone.

Indeed, this film does a wonderful job of making sure that its core trio of characters all showcase several perspectives on conflict that a wide variety of people will agree with or understand. Indeed be it the devotion to duty, the fear of the day-to-day in conflict, the uncertainty in regards to the mission being carried out, the draining from an emotional perspective that death and not being around loved ones can bring, or even the painstaking fear of things just as precious as our lives being taken from us in a war zone, this is a film which manages to speak on some level to every person that watches it yet wisely omits a message that feels forced which often has negated the potent impact of pictures like this one. Of course the never-ending concept that is “war is hell” is most certainly a message this film is trying to convey, but, unlike many other war films, the director of this film manages to keep an atmosphere of neutrality at play here and only chooses to keep the universally known idea that it doesn’t matter if a conflict is necessary or not, war will always be hell, and not just in regards to what it can do to a person physically. Thus, this is a film which manages to triumph not only because the characters feel like real people, but also because they manage to represent quirks and peculiarities that distinguish them whilst keeping them grounded in an reality that makes the film feel more like it’s a real-life documentary and which also strengthens the concept that injury to a person psychologically is the most horrific danger of all in any given conflict zone be it the snow-layered fields of Valley Forge, the sweat-inducing jungles in Vietnam and Cambodia, or the hot and dusty world of Iraq.

Now I do feel that the trio of main actors in this that is Mr.’s Renner, Mackie, and Geraghty all manage to provide absolutely believable and yet also phenomenal turns in this that are a great window into the agony both mentally and physically that every soldier finds themselves combating. Indeed each of our main trio really contributes a significant degree of authenticity to their roles plus with how different they are, personality-wise, we also get a much deep and more realistic environment and characters to follow than if they were just a bunch of nameless drones going all over Iraq in a bomb suit or wielding an M4. In addition, I also feel that this film is filmed in such a way that it does a wonderful job of helping the audience feel like they are in the midst of this madness with the men while never once having stepping foot in the actual combat zone itself themselves. Indeed by utilizing a style that feels like something more out of a documentary film more than any other genre, the director and her cinematographer manage to give the viewer the opportunity to feel like they are part of the team through the utilization of handheld camera work that is truly evocative of not just the chaos and anarchy, but with the continually-evolving nature of the battlefield as well. Indeed even though both the directorial style being similar to what had been done in the equally as terrific Black Hawk Down from 2001, and the fact that this particular style as of late has become the main way to film a War movie, it still proves to be quite potent in this film, and also makes for the final ingredient in a film that also is a defining benchmark for War films set during the conflict in Iraq.

All in all The Hurt Locker is not just one of the finest films in the War genre to come out in the decade known as the 2000’s. It is also a film that manages to wonderfully showcase the hellish landscape of conflict as well as just how sensitive an individual becomes when they become a soldier and how individuals who are unfamiliar with one another find themselves becoming closer than family in the heat of battle in order to achieve the one thing that every soldier attempts to do: survive. Indeed this is a movie which hopefully will result in people who have yet to experience the front line of combat realizing that every individual soldier that chooses to fight for this country deserves our respect because in order to fight for this country it takes bravery, honor, and a willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice both physically and psychologically…On a scale of 1-5 I give The Hurt Locker a solid 4.5 out of 5.

On behalf of At the Movies we would like to take this moment to recognize every man and woman who has ever put on the uniform and served their country! Thank you for your strength, your willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice, but above all for your honor and your courage. We salute you and thank you for your service. Happy Memorial Day everyone and we’ll see you guys….at the movies! Ag