It’s not often we are treated with a story that sort of sneaks up on you, but that’s exactly the case here with director Kathryn Bigelow’s war thriller, “The Hurt Locker.” This film, which went on to win Best Picture in 2010, still is relatively unknown around most circles. That’s a shame, for its depiction on just one of the many active military groups during the war in Iraq was about as real as it gets proving to be a great DVD pick after the release of Bigelow’s follow up film, “Zero Dark Thirty.”
Taking place in the early stages of the 2004 war in Iraq, the story here follows a EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) unit and their day to day operations, which was nothing short of spectacular given the unbelievable circumstances. After becoming the team leader of the assigned Bravo company EOD group, Staff Sergeant First Class William James (Jeremy Renner), quickly defuses a IED (improvised explosive device), but while doing it, irritates his new team consisting of Sergeant JT Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty). You see, James didn’t listen too well and while he would be confident in his own abilities with these IED situations’, his team didn’t know any better, thus creating a tricky and extremely unorthodox environment at times. Probably not something you want in a time of war, but that’s the price you pay to work with a guy as smart and talented as James, who was very driven and good at his job. So, as James and his team go from one mission to the next, they all start to realize what was really going on in this disarmed country, each reacting and reflecting in different ways. And the longer their tour went, the more real it got, resulting in a multitude of emotions for everyone involved. But, as the story ends, you start to realize just how true the opening quote from a book written by NY Times journalist and author Chris Hodges was; “The rush of battle is a potent and often lethal addiction, for war is a drug.”
I almost guarantee this cast is one that no one will recognize and for that, I credit director Kathryn Bigelow. There’s no need to bring in A-list actors when the story is the real star of the film. And Bigelow made sure she picked the right balance with her cast, ensuring the intensity would be at the highest level possible. Because, with a relatively unknown cast, all focus is on the story, which is part of why this film felt so real. And sure, maybe Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty and “then” unknown Jeremy Renner helped with that, but to me, the credit should go to Bigelow and rookie screenwriter Mark Boal. Without the amazing accounts from Boal, a journalist who was in fact embedded with an EOD squad just like the one in this film, this story would have never made it. Because it was his research and hand-written word that helped Bigelow place her cast in the perfect moments within the story. To have a writer that actually spent time in the war he was writing a screenplay about is incredible and just one example of why this film was special.
For all that’s made about women and directing, Kathryn Bigelow has a found a way over the years to not fall into one specific genre. Instead, she chooses films that mean something and “The Hurt Locker” certainly fulfills that ideal. Sure, her resume is relatively short, but I think when you put all the passion into the film, as she does, her films equal out to being more meaningful. That actually might be the secret and recipe to success that many actors and directors in Hollywood fail to employ, but either way, Bigelow deserved the Oscar she won for directing. Not since “Black Hawk Down” have I felt so entrenched in a war thriller. Being able to bring in just the right emotion at times was critical and yes, the subject probably played a part in that. But, Bigelow still had to make sure her moments of clarity within the drama mattered and at no point did you feel removed from the intense nature of Boal’s Oscar-winning story. That’s a credit to Bigelow and how she shot the film; doing so from four different views making sure you felt and saw everything. That’s impressive and frankly, given the subject nice to see as no detail was missed. And while I will always maintain it looked and felt nothing like a Best Picture winner, it still is a film worth seeing now, which I guess is all that really matters.
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