Aside from perhaps low budget horror and Jean Claude Van Damme straight-to-DVD action flicks, war is probably the most saturated of all film genres. But with every new conflict comes new interpretations on the perils of war, and the events in Iraq over the past decade or so are prime for filmmakers to tackle from a multitude of angles.
With The Hurt Locker there is no plot as such, but rather we follow, documentary style, a three-man EOD bomb disposal team over the last month of their duty. The film essentially plays out as a series of tension-filled scenes rather than having much of an overarching story, but this is what gives the film an edge of originality. Whilst each character does have his own set of morals, desires, attitudes, and personalities, these often play second fiddle to the action portrayed on screen. This may sound as if the film is lacking in substance and story, but with such a naturally engrossing environment a dense plot is unnecessary.
You could argue that what elements of plot have been introduced on top of the action feel a little shoehorned in at times, and for short periods the film loses some of its direction. The documentary feel of much of the film sometimes gives way to a more traditional form that can feel a little jarring. However, those moments are minimal and rarely detract from the film’s overall focus.
Although The Hurt Locker scooped six awards at the Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director, as well as a host of other awards, the film was heavily criticised by those of military background for being totally unrealistic. There were complaints of incorrect uniforms, too much breaking of protocol and generally a feeling that not enough research had gone into the film, despite writer Mark Boal having been embedded with an American bomb squad for a couple of weeks in 2004.
The fact is that no film is ever truly going to be able to recreate what war is really like, but it can certainly give us non-military folk a feeling of what it might be like and, to be honest, that’s enough. You could get into the debate of just how realistic and accurate a film should be and whether a film should try to get every detail spot on to appease everyone, but that’s another blog for another time. Or perhaps not. Having certain inaccuracies doesn’t detract from the film except for those who have specialist knowledge, which would likely equate to a very small number of those who will watch this film. Whether that’s acceptable or not is, again, another blog for another time. Or perhaps not.
However, there are certain parts of the film that are likely to not sit right even with those with absolutely no military knowledge whatsoever. Sergeant First Class William James (Jeremy Renner) is somewhat of maverick and likes to do things his own way whatever the consequences. At several points in the film he endangers the lives of his fellow soldiers and breaks protocol on a number of occasions. Granted, this is to add a bit of flavour to the character, but some of his actions would simply not be tolerated. For example, setting off a smoke bomb to obscure his colleagues’ vision so he could disarm a bomb all on his own is something that would very likely be dealt with incredibly severely. This does detract from the realism a little and it’s easy to see why those with military experience may feel a little aggrieved at scenes like that.
This was Renner’s breakthrough role having had lesser known roles in films including 28 Weeks Later and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and he certainly grabbed the opportunity with both hands. He plays the role of the loose cannon antihero who is, for the most part, pretty hate-able but clearly lives for his job and is very good at it too. Occasionally we see James’ human side bubble to the surface and this adds a lot more depth to the character. Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty are also excellent in their roles as Sergeant JT Sanborn and Specialist Owen Eldridge respectively, and it’s the relationships between the trio that give the film some downtime from the tension of the action scenes. You may notice the names of Guy Pearce and Ralph Fiennes appear on the billing, but don’t take too much notice of that. After all, on a battlefield it doesn’t matter who you are.
Amongst some, The Hurt Locker is best remembered for the ‘battle’ for the Oscars between director Kathryn Bigelow and her ex-husband James Cameron who was also nominated pretty much across the board for Avatar. However, behind that gossip column sub-plot, is one of the most memorable war films of recent years. It might not be 100% accurate in every area, but it’s tense, exciting and has superb performances from its cast. Its direction gets a little muddled at times but overall is a worthy addition to an already crowded genre.
Words: Chris Thomson