Have I told you yet about the Downtown West theater in Knoxville? Well, then, let's do that. It's a little hole in the wall cinema set behind Target and just around the corner from the mall. It's nestled like a little pocket of art in a suburban wasteland. And, for the record, it is neither Downtown, nor West of anything in particular. It's where I saw SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, THERE WILL BE BLOOD, LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, and, now, THE HURT LOCKER. It's a place of wonder and awe.
THE HURT LOCKER opens with a quote. "The rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug." - Chris Hedges
This movie is a movie about the Iraq war, but it has nothing to do with politics. There is no scent of snarkiness toward Dubya, nor is there a pro-war agenda here. What THE HURT LOCKER does is to reduce the war to the bare conflict - soldiers against stuff that can kill them.
I usually do a quick plot summary at this point. But let's just leave it at this. THE HURT LOCKER is about the guys who disarm the bombs in Iraq. Pretty much the toughest guys on the planet.
The lead guy is Staff Sergeant William James (played with understated abandon by Jeremy Renner, who has a Best Actor nomination locked up). James is a mystery to his men. He takes risks that are unnecessary, putting himself in harm's way over and over and exposing his men to dangers that could be avoided.
There's an interesting dichotomy in this film - you constantly find yourself wanting to critizice James for his recklessness, but on the other hand, there's the opening scene. SPOILER HERE: The opening scene of THE HURT LOCKER is shocking and fascinating. In what proves to be a short cameo, Guy Pearce (who is a personal fave of mine) is in charge of the crew disarming an IED on a city street. When something goes wrong with the robot that is deliveing the charge to the IED, Pearce puts on the full bomb suit to apply the explosive. After Pearce puts the charges in place, the bomber activates the IED and, despite taking every appropriate precaution, Pearce bites it. They use the robot, they secure the perimeter, they use the full body bomb suit, and he still dies! Why allow yourself to judge a soldier for not following procedure, when the procedure is as likely to get somebody killed as not?
These are the kinds of questions that THE HURT LOCKER asks.
The main issue here, though, is explicity stated in the opening quote. The fact is, James loves his job. He adores potentially getting blowed up - so much so that he keeps a box under his bed with things that could have killed him - a trigger, a piece of shrapnel, etc. James is addicted to the danger. His men don't get it, and we don't either, at first. One of the really brilliant things about this movie (and there are many) is the way that it unfolds. We get very few hints of his personal like until almost the very end of the movie, and the scene is a killer. After finishing his time in Iraq, James goes home to his wife and two year old son. The scene is in a grocery store, where James' wife asks him to pick out some cereal and meet them at the check out. He stands in front of the huge row of cereal boxes and is absolutely lost. He grabs the first thing he can and makes a beeline for the door. Then, home again, he tells his wife that because they really need the money, he's going to volunteer to deploy back to Iraq. Next thing we know, he's back disarming bombs - with a huge smile on his face.
Man, I could seriously keep writing this, but it's already too long. I need to write about the friendships and levels of trust between the soldiers. There's an amazing scene involving a Capri Sun that could get 500 words by itself. There's another character - a young boy who sells DVDs on the street - that's integral to the plot and to James' character. Maybe I'll do another post when the DVD come out...
Anyway, go see this - you'll wish you had when it gets nominated for Best Picture. THE HURT LOCKER gets 5 body bombs out of 5. Go see it. Seriously.