The Hurt Locker is a 2008 film directed by Kathryn Bigelow and written by Mark Boal. What is it about? I’m not sure. What I am sure of is that it is overrated as hell. Supposedly, this movie is about a three-man U.S. Army bomb squad operating in the Iraq War. That’s what all of the movie’s scenes revolve around. However, it would be a stretch to say this movie is really about anything. But that’s not for a lack of trying.
In fact, The Hurt Locker tries to be about a lot of things, but fails at all of them. You know that old saying, “Jack of all trades, master of none”? Well, that’s this movie in a nutshell.
It tries to be an honest look at the Iraq War, but it isn’t realistic in the slightest. It tries to be a suspense-laden thriller, but the suspenseful scenes are few and far between. It tries to give us an in-depth look at the psychology of the men who experience war, but it doesn’t know how to pull that off. At best, The Hurt Locker could be described as schizophrenic. At worst, a piece of shit.
The movie begins with the death of the bomb squad’s team leader and subsequent replacement by the movie’s protagonist played by Jeremy Renner. His character is the typical Hollywood bullshit fest: loner, cowboy, introspective, brash, whatever. A mish-mash of conflicting psychological features that make no sense. Primarily, he causes a lot of tension among his team members, as he rushes in gung-ho to any situation.
Since the movie is trying to be realistic, having a cowboy bomb-squad leader makes the movie fail instantly. I can guarantee that when it comes to bomb squads, the last person they want on the team is some hot-shot cowboy who is addicted to adrenaline rushes. They want people who are cool and collected, and put the safety of the team above all else.
The bomb squad team regularly is out of contact with the rest of the Army. I’m fairly certain this would rarely happen. Perhaps if they lost comms in one scene (in order to make it suspenseful) that would be one thing. But they act this way throughout the entire movie, and it becomes an annoyance.
Another scene takes place at night where the bomb squad decides to take matters into their own hands and go searching for enemy insurgents. They “split up” which is the most overused Hollywood cliche this side of every horror movie. Naturally, this ends badly. Again, they are going for realism, but the team acts in the most bone-headed unrealistic manner imaginable. I have never been in the military, but anyone with half a brain would realize this is not how things are done.
Every movie since the beginning of time with a bomb scene portrays it as ultra suspenseful. However, the purported “suspense” of this movie appears early on, but tapers down and is forgotten by the end. The opening scene shows the original team leader killed by a bomb, even though he is well clear of the blast zone, wearing full protective gear, and no shrapnel appears to touch him (lol realism). The next bomb scene (and first with Renner) has him defusing a bomb, only to realize it’s connected to seven additional bombs that had been buried beneath the sand. He begins to defuse them, and simultaneously the bomb maker realizes what is going on and races to hit a switch to blow them all up. That shit was really suspenseful. I was thinking, “This movie isn’t half bad” at the time. Of course, this was early on. By the end I was thinking, “This movie is much worse than just half bad.”
The next scene has Renner defusing a car bomb while his team covers him, only to find that possible insurgents are gathering around them. This scene isn’t quite as good as the first, but was still high on the suspense and well crafted. The remainder of the bomb scenes are seriously lacking in suspense. They defuse some bombs in the desert (no suspense). They get involved in a firefight with some insurgents (no suspense). They find a “body bomb” and another hidden bomb gets detonated (no suspense because there was no buildup, it just exploded for shock value). The final “vest bomb” is over so soon they couldn’t gather suspense.
The reason why The Hurt Locker failed to be suspenseful is that it was at this point the director decided she wanted to make some psychological shitfest. Of course, Hollywood is only able to think in terms of pop-psychology, so nearly everything rings false.
They show one team member having some kind of bizzaro-world sessions with an Army psychiatrist. He feels saddled with guilt from the death of the squad’s original leader. The “therapy” (and that’s being generous since it mostly consists of the psychiatrist telling the soldier to “get over it”) isn’t going so well (yeah, no kidding) so the psychiatrist decides to go on a mission with them. Why? No clue. Of course, he gets blown up because he’s just some stupid officer/doctor and doesn’t know what’s it like out there for all real soldiers. Since the psychiatrist went out there on behalf of the one team member, I thought at this point the movie was going to up the ante. That guy was going to feel like another death was his fault, and he’d start to lose his mind and go crazy like in Full Metal Jacket. Nope. It’s never mentioned again.
Renner’s character thinks that an Iraqi kid he knows was killed to make the “body bomb.” He goes crazy, and suddenly we’re watching The Bourne Supremacy. He gets incognito, grabs a hostage, and goes into an Iraqi city at night. He infiltrates some dude’s house and questions him. Just then the guys wife comes home, yells at Renner, and he runs away like a little girl. I thought this would herald a slow downward spiral into madness, but nope, that didn’t happen either. In fact, the kid turns out to have been alive all along. A completely pointless subplot that went nowhere.
Near the end, Renner goes back to the U.S. We see him in a supermarket, dumbfounded at how to make a choice of which breakfast cereal to buy. More Hollywood pop-psychology bullshit. LOL HE IS AN ELITE BOMB DEFUSER WHO HAS TO MAKE LIFE AND DEATH DECISIONS IN A SPLIT SECOND BUT ONCE HE’S BACK IN CIVILIZATION HE IS UNABLE TO MAKE A DECISION AS SIMPLE AS BUYING CEREAL LOL! Way to go, Hollywood. That’s really fucking deep.
At the very end, Renner returns to the war because he’s an adrenaline junky. The opening of the movie greeted us with a bullshit quote: “The rush of battle is a potent and often lethal addiction, for war is a drug.” This fades out, and a few words remain highlighted: “war is a drug.” Sorry, wrong again. Certain people may be addicted to adrenaline, but certainly nobody is addicted to war.
Traumatized soldiers may return home only to go back to the war, but not because they’re addicted to it. It’s because that world (the one of the war) is the one that makes more sense. It’s black and white. You know who the bad guys are. You know what to do with them. Kill them. Everyone there understands that. Things are simple. In civilization it isn’t so cut and dry. You don’t know who the bad guys are, and when you are in stressful situations you can’t kill your enemies. Things are much more confusing. It’s easier to return to the world of the war where things at least make sense.
And how about PTSD? Where was that? This would have been a prime movie to discuss the implications of the widespread illness, but it isn’t even hinted at.
The director of this movie was full of shit. She said that one of the keys to making it suspenseful was to cast relative unknowns so that you’d never know who was going to live or die. (Apparently in other movies the “stars” must always live.) Here’s a look at the cast: Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty, Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes, David Morse, Evangeline Lilly, and Christian Camargo.
Let’s see how unknown they really were. I’m only going to list major Hollywood releases they starred in prior to The Hurt Locker, and not the multitude of smaller movies and TV shows these guys were in. And believe me, it’s a lot.
- Jeremy Renner: SWAT, 28 Weeks Later, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.
- Anthony Mackie: 8 Mile, The Manchurian Candidate, Million Dollar Baby, Half Nelson, We Are Marshall
- Brian Geraghty: Jarhead, When a Stranger Calls, The Guardian, We Are Marshall
- Guy Pearce: L.A. Confidential, Rules of Engagement, Memento, The Count of Monte Cristo
- Ralph Fiennes: Schindler’s List, Quiz Show, Strange Days, The English Patient, Red Dragon, In Bruges, and several Harry Potter films.
- David Morse: 12 Monkeys, The Rock, The Long Kiss Goodnight, The Green Mile, Disturbia, John Adams
- Evangeline Lilly: Freddy vs. Jason, White Chicks, Lost (TV show but she had a starring role)
- Christian Camargo: K-19 The Widowmaker, National Treasure: Book of Secrets
When this movie was being made, they clearly had big aspirations. They wanted to make a realistic war movie that would be suspenseful and insightful regarding human psychology and war. Unfortunately, it was made by people who aren’t involved in the military so they couldn’t make it realistic, and they have no understanding of psychology or war.
Some people have argued it’s the most realistic Iraq War movie to date. OK, sure, but that doesn’t mean it’s very realistic. If you want something better, turn to the HBO mini-series Generation Kill. That follows a group of U.S. Marines during the early days of the Iraq War. It even stars Alexander Skarsgard, so you can get your True Blood fix while you’re at it.
Making matters worse, The Hurt Locker won several Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and a bunch of other crap. This really isn’t surprising. The Academy almost always gives the highest honors to shit that doesn’t deserve it. The true “best picture” of that year was Inglourious Basterds. But the members of the Academy probably thought they were being deep or political or some other nonsense when they gave the award to Kathryn Bigelow’s turd of a movie. Why didn’t they give it to Avatar? Oh that’s right, everybody hated it.