Written by J.T. Johnson
“The Hurt Locker” tells the story of three soldiers in the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) and their mission to defuse bombs while under fire. The film opens with Sgt. J.T. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) losing their commander while on the job. They have 38 days left before their rotation ends and they can go home.
Soon, they meet Staff Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner), the man that has become their new commander. While the men always have to obtain a certain sense of cockiness to get through the job, James is even more reckless and is referred to as a wild card. Eldridge is too preoccupied with feeling guilty about what happened to his last commander while Sanborn cannot stand the new guy and even contemplates killing him at one point.
Sanborn is waiting with Eldridge while waiting for James to get his gloves. While there, Sanborn thinks about setting off the explosives near James. Was he just talking hypothetically or was he serious about blowing up his new commander? That is for the audience to decide.
That is also one of the primary aspects that this film addresses. It delves not just into what the men do for a living but what is going on in their heads on a psychological level and the effects it has on their job. Jeremy Renner plays James as a guy who does not really understand himself and why he does this job.
Is he an adrenaline junkie or simply a guy who has become addicted to his job and the war the soldiers are fighting? Renner gives a fantastic performance that examines all of these possibilities and is at least worthy of an Oscar nod. His two co-stars also offer different perspectives on the job.
Mackie plays Sgt. Sanborn as a man who just wants to do the job by the book and go home. He is upset with James not because James is taking unnecessary risks, but that he is taking risks that could also get Sanborn himself killed. Many actors usually play the “by-the-book” character as a man who is also weak because of his dedication to protocol, but Mackie does not fall into this trap and makes Sanborn a skilled man who just thinks that James is too reckless.
As stated above, Geraghty plays Eldridge as a man who feels guilty about the previous commander’s death. This is because Eldridge always contemplates the “what if” scenarios. For example, what if he had killed the man who held the detonator to the bomb before the man could have hit the button? These are the things that go through Eldridge’s head and one does not know how these will finally affect him in the end.
The suspense is also breathtaking. The director, Kathryn Bigelow, knows that she does not need to ramp up the suspense by adding unnecessary sounds or false-alarms. Instead, she knows that a bomb in the scene is suspenseful enough. No clever film tricks are needed… just good timing.
There has not been a war movie this good since Ridley Scott’s “Black Hawk Down”. In the end, the acting is superb and the story is appreciated because it does not just show a bunch of guns going off left and right with explosions every ten seconds. It talks about some of the most underappreciated soldiers in the military and the risks they take to save lives, because the margin of error for defusing a situation in this career is absolutely zero.