The word “Masterpiece” is used so often to define a film, an album, a piece of art or a tv series that the luster begins to fade from the words meaning. Few things are actual masterpieces, and The Hurt Locker is one in every sense of the word. From the very beginning the fact is made abundantly clear that war is not for the faint hearted, not everyone on this planet should go to war. For the ones that do they either embrace it seeing it as an addiction, something they need to do, or they do it to get it over with. There is no in between.
Plenty of war films can be classified as masterpieces within the genre and throughout film as a whole and they certainly deserve it. What makes The Hurt Locker a great war film let alone a masterpiece all stems from the screenplay written by Mark Boal, based on his accounts while working as a freelance journalist in Iraq in 2004. Characters and story are completely fictional, but the realism of the Iraq war is felt in every scene. Unlike previous war films that have their historical accuracies and fictionalizations, The Hurt Locker focuses its lens on the most dangerous job in the Army – an EOD sergeant.
EOD stands for “Explosive Ordnance Disposal” and Sergeant William James’ (Jeremy Renner) only job is to diffuse Improvised explosive devices or simply put IED’s. James takes over for his predecessor Sergeant Thompson (Guy Pearce) after an explosion took Thompson’s life. Watching over Thompson and now James is Sergeant J.T. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty).
“You love playing with that. You love playing with all your stuffed animals. You love your Mommy, your Daddy. You love your pajamas. You love everything, don’t ya? Yea. But you know what, buddy? As you get older, some of the things you love might not seem so special anymore. Like your Jack-in-a-Box. Maybe you’ll realize it’s just a piece of tin and a stuffed animal. And then you forget the few things you really love. And by the time you get to my age, maybe it’s only one or two things. With me, I think it’s one.”
James and Thompson couldn’t be anymore the opposite with how they conduct themselves on the scene of a potential IED. James is a wildcard, he’s arrogant and unpredictable when on a mission. This causes Sanborn and James to be at odds with one another the moment of their first mission begins. Sanborn and Eldridge tend to follow protocol – the less amount of risk involved, the better it is for them and the easier these last 38 days in rotation will be. Though James’ methods are unconventional, he gets the job done. He gets a rush of adrenaline coming face to face with things that could kill him if the wrong wire was cut.
Could you honestly blame James for his methods and how he conducts himself? He has the most dangerous job in the world, let alone the Army so if he goes about things his own way is it really such a bad thing? Maybe its PTSD or maybe it’s the addiction of the job. When he’s not diffusing bombs, he’s a shell of himself but when he’s on the job his true self comes out in focus.
The beauty of The Hurt Locker is the fact that this is a character study of a man who feels the most comfortable in the worst place imaginable. James is a hero and a leader oddly enough; he doesn’t start out that way but over time he has these moments with Sanborn and Eldridge respectively that showcase his leadership and heroism. And it’s within these moments away from the fighting that you feel the bond and brotherhood between these men. But James cares less about the accolades and medals that accompany with good service to his country and more about getting the job done by any means necessary. He does his job and has a smoke and every time it infuriates Sanborn to no end.
There’s no long monologues or inspirationally driven speech for why they are doing this job and The Hurt Locker doesn’t need that to be a great war film. It’s a more accurate depiction of war and the people that fight it together that make this a masterpiece; along with the sometimes-necessary gruesome action to connect with these characters emotionally and the realistic tactical choreography, The Hurt Locker hits all the checkmarks.
“Aren’t you glad the Army has all these tanks parked here? Just in case the Russians come and we have to have a big tank battle?”
A great war film is tense and suspenseful that grabs hold of your attention making you never want to look away. It keeps you on the edge of your seat, eyes glued to the screen and maybe giving you the same creeping anxiety that the characters are feeling in those moments of action or in utter silence. Director Kathryn Bigelow uses the tension in Mark Boal’s script and steadily builds upon it with every scene. Close up shots, the constant cuts between characters, the slowed down effects, the pulse pounding music and the environment all are flawlessly building tension simultaneously. There’s no question that the tension is the foundation of The Hurt Locker with which everything else is built around.
Countless war films take place during World War 2 or Vietnam but there is nothing like the environment during this period of time. From the constant onlookers on the various buildings to the unpredictable characters that come in contact with the “heroes” its impossible to comprehend a concrete strategy to deal with the urban warfare. Bigelow captures that spirit perfectly that can transport you right into the Humvee and to the streets with James, Sanborn and Eldridge.
As phenomenal as Jeremy Renner is, Brian Geraghty gives him a run for his money. Eldridge is clearly not equipped mentally to handle war and his mistakes haunt him to no end. But his story is that of redemption when he takes out an enemy on the bridge while Sanborn and James are taking out snipers. It’s easy to cheer for Eldridge because you can feel his pain and suffering agony when Thompson died, and he could have stopped it. Boal and Bigelow find that healthy medium between the three men and their healthy and unhealthy experiences with war.
The Hurt Locker is arguably the greatest war film ever made, it’s certainly top 5 in my opinion. Where some of the great war films use big A-List names to attract those to see the film, the bigger names in this like a Guy Pearce or a Ralph Fiennes or Evangeline Lilly (James’ ex-girlfriend) are used in smaller roles to give more meaning to the characters that matter the most to this story.
So, tell me, have you seen The Hurt Locker and if so, what do you think about it? Do you agree or disagree with me? Comment below or send me an email and let me know what you think.
The Hurt Locker is written by Mark Boal, directed by Kathryn Bigelow is Rated R and has a 97% on Rotten Tomatoes. The Hurt Locker premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2008 and on June 26, 2009 in the United States and has a runtime of 2 hours and 20 minutes. The Hurt Locker can be purchased by online retailers such as iTunes, Google and Amazon. 5 out of 5.