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Courtesy of First Light Production

The Hurt Locker

Tensions are high in this film about bomb experts in Iraq

By Jocelyn Bell

The Hurt Locker
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow, starring Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty
(First Light Production)

At a U.S. Army base in Iraq, two soldiers meet their new team leader, Staff Sgt. James — a replacement for their previous leader, killed by a handmade explosive. The trio will spend the last 39 days of their rotation disarming bombs in the heat of combat, knowing that a single mistake could cost them their lives.

In what has been called the best film about the war in Iraq, The Hurt Locker eschews the hallmarks of American war movies. You’ll find no crescendo to a great and decisive battle scene; no patriotic background music as heroic characters rise to victory.

Rather, it’s just three guys defusing bombs that pop up like weeds. Their actions won’t make or break the war; their morals won’t triumph. All they’ll do is try to survive a war that feels chaotic, futile and dangerous — incredibly dangerous.

Director Kathryn Bigelow is a pro at building tension. A friendly Iraqi could be a suicide bomber; a cellphone could detonate an explosion; someone watching the soldiers from a rooftop could be an insurgent. Hand-held camera work, used during the most nerve-wracking scenes, makes the viewer feel as nervous as the bomb techs.

Bigelow layers tension upon tension: Staff Sgt. James is reckless about his safety — and that of his subordinates. A desert renegade, he takes increasing risks in pursuit of an adrenalin fix. Dismantling bombs that fill the trunk of a parked car, James removes his protective gear and tosses off his headset. “There’s enough bang in there to blow us all to Jesus. If I’m gonna die, I want to die comfortable,” he says.

There’s a moment where Sgt. James softens, and the team finally gels. But the catastrophic events that follow  warp him to such a degree that the only thing left is adrenalin.

As the days tick down to the end of the company’s rotation, the question isn’t just whether these three soldiers will live, but whether they’ll survive with their humanity intact.

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