The Hurt Locker: The Iraq war from the view of US soldiers
War movies are a fickle thing but in Kathryn Bigelow’s movie „The Hurt Locker“ from 2008, we can see the ugly side of war from the perspective of the individuals, thereby evading any open judgement but still grasping the tension and brutality of war.
The Hurt Locker focuses on an American bomb squad team (more accurate, the Explosive Ordnance Disposal) in Iraq 2004 which tries to find and defuse bombs before they can detonate. When the Staff Sergeant gets killed by a remote-controlled explosion, the team (played by Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty) gets a new member, namely William James (an excellent Jeremy Renner), a maverick when it comes to defuse but also a reckless team member who refuses to communicate properly and puts himself into danger more often than not.
The Hurt Locker: The wounds of war
What sounds like the typically rogue action movie actually is more of a character study as the team of three tries to work together without clashing their personalities and harming their work. At the same time, all have to deal with the stress that the job puts on them and the mostly deadly situations they face in a generally hostile environment.
The story has been written by journalist Mark Boal who has spend some time with an actual bomb squad in 2004 and experienced the tension and camaraderie himself. Boal’s goal was to portray the war on a personal level because the way that it’s presented in the news and other media was not close enough for him, as journalists seldom were able to get so close to the actual life of the soldiers.
The shooting in was a tour de force for everyone involved. The shot took place in Jordan, the first hurdle as many were hesitant to travel there due to safety concerns. On their arrival, the heat did it’s best to create a working atmosphere that put an insane amount of tension on crew and actors and eventually mirrored the work in front of the camera with the happenings behind it.
A difficult production
Several accidents (Jeremy Renner twisted his ankle in one scene, special effects artist Richard Stutsman had an accident with Chinese fireworks) lead to more tension and the movie nearly didn’t make it due to internal communication problems and the overall conditions on the set.
For many extras, the film crew casted Iraqi civilians, some with theatrical background but many without. Through their perspective, the movie gets an additional layer and feels more real not only because their viewpoint – even though the narrative follows the three Americans – is shown between the main scenes, in lingering shots on apprehensive faces that show how the Americans are invading and feel out of place.
After its first screenings, there has been critic from members of actual bomb squads who said that a character like James never would have been allowed inside the team and that many inaccuracies tainted the movie. However, there have been many other voices from soldiers that stated that the feel of being in war has been adequately depicted and that therefore the mistakes – that in the end every movie makes – didn’t weigh as much.
Because we see what is happening through the eyes of the protagonists and because the camera and editing leaves them a lot of time to react, „The Hurt Locker“ is an incredibly intimate movie that is painful to watch but necessary to understand, that the conditions of war are never humane and that soldiers on both sides have to struggle to remain human and somehow do things that defy any natural instincts.
Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow
Script: Mark Boal
Cast: Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty