Quick Film Diagnosis: The Hurt Locker

A veteran friend of mine once explained to me why he thought The Hurt Locker was a bad “war movie.”  To him, the inaccuracies of the film largely outweighed his ability to enjoy it (ex. no one would’ve condoned or celebrated Will James’ reckless behavior).  I’m certainly not qualified to debate most of his argument, and am still stunned that he spent about ten years routinely risking his life for me. However, I disagreed then that The Hurt Locker is a “war movie,” because it’s not really—it’s a series of character studies that happen to take place at a time and condition of war.  This is precisely why a film with such a simple plot is so powerful, impossible to replicate, and so heavily dependent on the superb performances from its then-unknown actors. For this reason, I recommend The Hurt Locker despite the logistical inaccuracies that may remove it from the highest ranks of the “war movie” genre—and that’s fine, because it’s the character drama that sets the film apart.

The richness of the three main characters really is every psychoanalyst’s dream, to the point where the pulse-pounding suspense of waiting to see what blows up next just feels like an added entertainment bonus.  These characters include JT Sanborn (Anthony Mackie), caught between a desire to serve and desire to survive, and Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty), who seems afraid of both the war he is in and the man he thinks he’s becoming.  However, this richness especially pertains to Will James, the not-so-passively-suicidal ring leader, who remains a riveting question mark thanks to a deeply complex performance from an overdue Jeremy Renner.

Despite the incessant “high stakes” tension, The Hurt Locker is debatably most powerful in its final minutes, which are far more subdued and character-reinforcing than what any of the movie posters suggest. In an industry increasingly characterized by an annual 8:2 franchise-to-indie movie release ratio, the artistic achievement of The Hurt Locker is also argument alone to check it out; it’s the kind of film that now feels in danger of extinction.  As Oscar fodder films are increasingly catered to AMPAS interests rather than audience members, it’s refreshing to watch a Best Picture winner that even the director didn’t think anyone would see.

Watch it When: You don’t care about your cortisol level.

While You Watch: If “war is a drug,” what are these men self-medicating for?

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