Film Threat Review: The Hurt Locker

2009
Rated R
130 minutes
Summit Entertainment

***

I was really excited for “The Hurt Locker” because I’m a huge fan of one of director Kathryn Bigelow’s early films. Maybe you’ve heard of it. It’s about an FBI agent who learns to surf so that he can infiltrate a gang of moondoggies who also happen to be bank robbers. Do you know the film I mean? It stars the guy from “The Matrix” and the guy from “Dirty Dancing” and it’s amazingly awesome.

I wanted so badly for “The Hurt Locker” to have the same energy as “Point Break.” But it just…didn’t have it. Well, it was on a certain level. Like “Point Break,” it’s about an out-of-control adrenaline junkie and features some pretty outlandish dialog. Yet the script just isn’t as serious as the subject matter. Plus, it’s about a war that is still going on, which is kind of a sore subject.

“War is a drug,” so says the opening statement. What follows is a film about a bomb squad in Baghdad called Bravo Company who only has 38 days left in its yearlong tour. Consequently, they aren’t pleased when their leader (Guy Pierce) dies during a routine mission and is replaced by a loose cannon named William James (Jeremy Renner). The dude has two first names so he’s obviously not into “rules.”

On his first day, he marches headlong into a bomb-ridden area without using the scout robot first. It ends with him in a standoff with a shady cab driver. “He’s reckless,” observes his astute colleague. On his second day, he takes off his protective gear because he’s hot, declaring “If I’m gonna die, I might as well be comfortable.” “He’s a wild man,” observes his colleague astutely. Are you beginning to get the impression that Sgt. Bill Jim is a bit on the rash side? You would be correct. At some point someone actually states, “I’m too old for this shit.” Needless to say, it’s a little on-the-nose.

Granted, absurd dialog can be pretty entertaining. But here’s the trouble with “The Hurt Locker”: the violence doesn’t match the lines. Horrible things happen to old men and kids. Because the movie takes place in present-day Iraq, you can’t help but think about the reality of the violence. Again, a realistic war story can also be great cinema. But the language doesn’t marry well with the violence. It makes for a pretty schizophrenic film-going experience.

I don’t know if we’re supposed to like Sgt. Jim, but he’s certainly no everyman. He keeps mementos from each of the bombs he’s dismantled in a box full of “things that almost killed [him].” It also contains his wedding ring. He has a son at home, but he doesn’t seem to care too much about the boy growing up without a father. For fun, he gets drunk and punches people. He does show some affection for a local boy who calls himself Beckham. But it’s not enough to endear him to me or to help make sense of why the hell we are over there in the first place. Sgt. Jim thinks that war is easy and that real life is the hard part. That is pretty fucked up.

In short, “The Hurt Locker” is a modern war movie that doesn’t exactly glorify war, but doesn’t vilify it either. The film’s thesis is that some people are meant for war. I find that notion unsettling. What can I say? I like my war movies strictly anti. I also really like the musical “Hair!”

Originally posted on FilmThreat.com (now defunct).

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