FILM REVIEW. THE HURT LOCKER: Rated A. Director Kathryn Bigelow: Writer: Mark Boal: Cinematographer: Barry Ackroyd.

July 4, 2009 by
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Men At War And What Drives Them.

This film is about U.S. Army bomb defusers during 2004, one of the worst years for terrorist bombing in Iraq. The film opens with a bomb squad called into defuse a suspected bomb. The squad consists of a Sergeant in Charge, Sanborn (Anthony Mackie), the diffuser, Guy Pierce, and Specialist Eldridge( Brian Geraghty) a younger soldier there to help secure the area around the bomb and be on the alert for any one seeking to detonate the bomb by using a remote control. Pierce is all confidence and up to the job, one the most dangerous in the Army. The bomb is being defused with a remote controlled robot, but the operation hits a snag when a wheel falls off a piece of equipment. Although the scene is on a narrow ,congested, city street with many Iraqis held back by the the squad and other Army soldiers with

M16s at the ready. It is an uneasy scene because the men know the bomb maker is out there watching and would like to kill as many Americans as possible.

Despite this fact Pierce decides to defuse the bomb directly and dons his heavily armored bomb suit.As he and gets within the 25 meter “kill zone” Eldridge spots a man with a cell phone and raises his rifle to stop him but is too late. Pierce hears his warning shout and turns to run as the bomb goes off but he is still too close and he dies from the concussion.

Thus the premise of the movie is set. A man working as a bomb diffuser in hostile environment where any mistake could mean death. The film seeks to analyze the type of person drawn to such work.



Will James

Are they thrill seekers, suicidal show offs, men attempting to validate their existence or are they motivated by some deeper

force? Director,Kathryn Bigelow declares in a quote at the beginning of the movie that “war is a drug”. Meaning that people seek it out for the excitement and adrenalin rush.

However it doesn’t appear that Pierce’s replacement Sgt. Will James (Jeremy Renner) is motivated by being in danger and prevailing over his circumstances using his wits.

Will James on the surface displays a devil may care attitude and independence that draws him into conflict with Sergeant Sanborn for not following orders in tense situations. Sanborn is angered enough to sucker punch James after he defuses a bomb while breaking all the rules, taking unreasonable risks in Sanborn’s eyes against orders. Sanborn is black, but race is not relevant to the film except that Sanborn tells James at one point that he is just red neck trailer trash. James laughs and walks away.


So what does motivate James, validation of his own self worth, proving that he is more man than the others or is he bent on self destruction? He seems to value himself highly.

He is the type of man who seeks to do dangerous work under difficult conditions in face of the odds. In other words meeting the challenge for which he is confident he can do. He may get an adrenalin rush out this but there is more to him than that.

Thus this film is more than a war action film where tough soldiers are beating the enemy

James is a more philosophical and just man, (perhaps without any conscious introspection on the subject) who sees the evilness of the terrorist bombers and is unwilling to stand by without doing something. That something is what he knows he can excel at and also get fulfillment by knowing he is doing the just thing in life.


He has a wife a child at home but he is seen to be ill at ease when he rotates back to civilian life. While husband and wife are not in conflict, she is happy as a homemaker and a mother with her man in the home while he is restless and uneasy. He has limited rapport with his wife and child. This places him in conflict about his role in life. Should he go back to civilian life with a wife, toddler, mortgage and a life of quiet desperation or do what he loves and is driven to do.


He explains to her that his motivation for the work was to use his intellect and skills to counter men who would drive a bomb into a market hand out candy to attract children to the area and then set off the bomb killing 50 or 60 of the innocents.


The wife is non responsive to this, neither encouraging him or discouraging him. This is the only peek we get of James as a civilian in the film. At home he is doing the shopping with his wife and helping with the other chores around the house, but he is a fish out of his element. In the end of the film we see that he has forsaken the comforts of home and is returning to Iraq for another tour as a diffuser with a smile on his lips as he looks forward to the challengers ahead.


The film is an intense, action driven thriller shot close up in the faces of the men with swift cuts back and forth and a modicum of long and medium shots to give place and scene orientation to the viewer.


The immediacy of the film makes the viewer feel he is there in real time. A difficult thing for a director to accomplish. It depicts the intensity of men working under shifting dangerous conditions and their relationship with themselves and others. Sanborn is the Army professional who was in Intelligence before the present assignment. He follows Army protocol.


James is the renegade. He is going to do what he thinks the situation demands even if it is against procedural rules or even Sanborn’s orders and means taking on more risk but following his instincts and drive to complete the job at hand. It is his raison d’etre for living a just, meaningful life doing what he was meant to do.


Kathryn Bigelow has made a classic but not a classic war movie but a classic film about the human condition. In that sense one can see the influence of the great European filmmakers on her work which also is quintessentially American. Not an easy thing to do well and she has done it well. The acting is also superb as well as the cinematography.

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