War Is a Drug

14 Mar

If you really want to know what kind of movie The Hurt Locker is, all you need to watch is one scene about a third of the way in, when Army Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner) discovers a trunk full of explosives.

Knowing his life could end any minute from now if he doesn’t succeed in his mission to defuse the bombs, he takes off all his protective gear and says to a member of his team, without flinching, “If I’m gonna die, I want to die comfortable.”

That brazen, no-holds-barred attitude permeates Kathryn Bigelow’s award-winning film.

When it first appeared in theaters last summer, Hurt Locker was one of those movies I kept putting off seeing, despite the rave reviews I’d heard about. And then when it started to win all kinds of year-end critics prizes and awards, I had hoped it would reappear in Boston-area theaters.

Now that it has scored the Oscar for Best Picture, the film is finally back in more theaters, and I didn’t hesitate to go see it.

While I wouldn’t call Hurt Locker the best 2009 release I saw (that’s still Up in the Air), I wouldn’t contest Oscar voters’ decision either.

A gritty, suspenseful, often tough-to-watch film, Hurt Locker shows you what life is like on the front line for an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team during the Iraq War.

Renner’s Sergeant James is a ballsy hick who does things his way, to the consternation of his partners, Sergeant J. T. Sanborn and Specialist Owen Eldridge (Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty).

Shot with hand-held cameras that give a you-are-there perspective and ratchet up the intensity (but don’t induce nausea), the film moves from one tightrope-walking set piece to another, and each time the stakes get higher — especially because we know how close these guys are to going home.

We don’t learn much about Sanborn and Eldridge, but we see that James feels at home in these high-stakes situations where having just two options — living or dying — makes life easier than it is back in the States.

Sure, when he’s first introduced, James seems a bit stereotypical, and his tension with Sanborn is a bit cliched. But once the film settles in and we spend some time with these guys, we see that there’s more to James than meets the eye. This guy has an addiction to dangerous situations, and the perception that any day could be his last drives him to take the kinds of risks that most other men (particularly the ones he works with) just can’t.

Hurt Locker doesn’t take any political stance on the war, but it does show how some people are just more cut out for Army life than others.

Bigelow doesn’t shy away from showing you what it’s like in Iraq (so I assume) and what it takes to survive. This is not a movie for everyone, but it’s certainly an impressive achievement — one that probably wouldn’t be as good on DVD — and I’m giving it an A–.

3 Responses to “War Is a Drug”


  1. 2012 Was a Masterful Year for the Movies « Martin's Musings - December 21, 2012

    […] film, told with exacting journalistic detail (screenplay is by Mark Boal, who also wrote The Hurt Locker), ZD30 is a white-knuckle thriller that will have your heart racing and your palms sweating — […]

  2. It’s Her Against the World « Martin's Musings - January 11, 2013

    […] by the same team that did the Oscar-winning Hurt Locker — director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal — Zero Dark Thirty documents the 10-year […]

  3. This Side or the Other | Martin's Musings - April 2, 2023

    […] (Jon Hamm) is hot on the trail of Doug and his gang, which also includes Doug’s BFF, Jem (The Hurt Locker‘s Jeremy […]

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