Sergeant James can’t stop disarming bombs
No one is sane in this portrait of soldiers in the second Gulf War. No one unscarred. But each of the three bomb squad members carries the horror in their own way. Their job is to locate and dismantle explosives in the streets of Iraq. Every day in their lives brings new painful trauma, near-death experiences and seeing innocent people blow up.
Sergeant James is the leader of the group. He has a can-do attitude and neglects procedure if he thinks it stands in the way of getting results. Behind his tough guy façade rests a truly empathic person who is desperate to help people in the best way he can: by marginalizing his own safety. The junior of the bunch is Eldridge, who is emotionally not up to the job. He’s reached his breaking point, freezes in battle. Then there’s Sanborn. He seems the rational one. He keeps his cool and performs his job to a T. He hates James for his way of dealing with things, but quickly turns out to be the most dangerous of the bunch, tempted to use the violence of war as an excuse to deal with his problems murderously. And yet none of them are stereotypes. They’re not fictional, but real people in extreme situations. Often though, life has a way of just going on, one day after the other. This film makes that more than clear.
The Hurt Locker was showered with Oscars early 2010, including Best Director and Best Picture, surpassing its main competitor Avatar. It should never have been much of a contest at all. The latter is an unoriginal fantasy tale saved only by its well-crafted visuals. The former is an important movie that shows in subtle ways the realities of modern warfare. The Hurt Locker begins with a quote about war being a kind of drug. In what follows, it isn’t afraid to show its madness, but also the daily doldrums and blasé attitude towards death it can inspire. It is not a biting satire like Three Kings, nor is it a heroic tale of overcoming hardships like Band of Brothers. Using a confident documentary filming style and a superb oscillation between quiet moments and chaotic violence, it’s an honest, heart-pounding view on what it means to be a soldier at war, and perhaps, addicted to it.