Sometimes, the only way to understand tragedy is to face it–especially when it’s projected on film. The War in Iraq has been going on for just over six years now. Over the past few years, many fine filmmakers have tried to tackle the subject, but none have come close to truly understanding it. Kathryn Bigelow, however, has perhaps come closest. Her latest film, “The Hurt Locker,” is a masterpiece, and one that may define this generation for some time to come.
“The Hurt Locker” takes place in Baghdad in 2004. It begins with Sergeant Thompson (Guy Pearce), a bomb disarmer. After Thompson is killed in an explosion, he is replaced by William James (Jeremy Renner). James is different from his fellow soldiers. During his military career, he disarmed over 840 bombs, and thus has become fearless. The word “dangerous” certainly does not appear in his vocabulary.
The movie doesn’t really have a plot. It is not about a major assassination attempt or a mission to destroy an enemy target. It is simply about soldiers trying to survive in Iraq; trying to survive a war where with no distinct enemy. It is a war where any civilian walking down the street could be carrying a case of C4.
At times, “The Hurt Locker” doesn’t even feel like a movie. Maybe that’s because of the grainy, shaky-cam style in which it is shot. But it could also be that every situation feels so real and so scary that it might as well have been real footage someone shipped back from Baghdad.
Maybe the reason previous films about Iraq never connected with mainstream audiences is because it was too soon to be trying to figure out the War while it was still going strong. As the War seems to finally be winding down, now seems like the time to start reflecting on it. After all, the best films about Vietnam didn’t come out until years after the conflict ended. “The Deer Hunter” was released three years after the war ended, “Apocalypse Now” was released four years after the war ended, “Platoon” eleven years, and “Full Metal Jacket” twelve years. “The Hurt Locker” is to date the best film made about Iraq. I believe though, that it may not remain that way; the film has opened up a new era of how war is portrayed on film.
In addition to being the best film made about Iraq, I believe that it is not an understatement to say that “The Hurt Locker” is one of the best war movies ever made. At times, it is scarier than any horror film. Every gun shot and every explosion send an immediate jolt to the heart.
Unlike most action films today which seem to go through every scene as quickly as possible, “The Hurt Locker” has no problem slowing things down. The scenes of a bullet being fired and a bomb blowing up are both shot in real time. When the first bomb blows up, things are slowed down so much that you can literally see metal melting and the sidewalk lift off up the ground. It is nothing short of stunning. Perhaps the scene that stuck out most was the sniper shootout. This scene takes no restraints in showing the effects of violence, and both sides are so far off that literally anything could happen at any moment.
I believe “The Hurt Locker” is a movie that can be both enjoyable and moving to anyone. It does not matter whether or not you support the War, because “The Hurt Locker” does what a good war film should do: it leaves politics out. It doesn’t say we should be there. It doesn’t say we shouldn’t be there. But it does seem to ask why we are there.
The real issue at hand though, is the idea of war in general and what it does to the human soul. In one of the film’s pivotal scenes, James admires the way his infant son seems to love everything. James remarks that as one ages, you can’t love everything like that. You only stick to one, two things at most. For him, that thing is war. In a way, director Kathryn Bigelow shapes the character of William James to be something like Willard from “Apocalypse Now,” or John Rambo. That is, the soldier that has been through war so much that he now depends on it. At this point, killing (or in James’s case, disarming bombs) has become the only thing they are good at, and the only thing they really have to live for.
Many people seem to forget the true difficulties our men and women face in Iraq. “The Hurt Locker” shows it in a way that no news report could. It portrays a world in which everything is a potential danger, and anything can be made into a weapon. At one point, Sergeant Sanborn (Anthony Mackie, in an unforgettable performance) reveals that he feels that so few people care about him, and his fear of being forgotten. This comment is not referring to his friends and family, but to the country in general. News everyday of soldiers being killed by car bombs seems typical to the point that no one even notices anymore. “The Hurt Locker” shows that no matter what, we must not forget.
I believe “The Hurt Locker” is this year’s top contender for a Best Picture nomination. And in a year where there will be ten nominees instead of five, snubbing this unforgettable film would be almost impossible.