For some reason movies about the Iraq wars don’t do well at the box office. I’m not sure why this is, but my guess is those middle eastern desert settings don’t make for a nice visual on screen. Let’s face it, the woods of Vietnam are more beautiful to look at than the deserts in Afghanistan. Next to that my guess is that the subject matter and the enemies are too grim to attract an audience. WW2 and Vietnam were wars that were fought man against man, with guns, machines and booby-traps and either in the past or in a remote country. The Iraq/Afghanistan wars are dirty, with people blowing themselves up, filming decapitations and putting them on the internet and it has reached local soil as the threat for terrorist attacks is part of every day life for us now. When movies are escapism, why would you want to go to watch a movie with a “disgusting” subject matter that is around you in real life?
The Hurt Locker revolves around a bomb squad operating in Iraq. When their team leader is killed in a thrilling opening sequence he’s replaced by William James, who turns out to be an adrenaline junkie who takes extreme risks while the squad is only has a little over a month before their duty is over. The team has to deal with this while trying to make it out their tour alive. The movie is shot diary-based showing us the countdown of the days the team has left and putting them from one situation to another with some small pieces of on-base related scenes in between. These situations are all pretty tense and vary from dismantling several variations of bombs to being in the middle of desert under gunfire of a sniper.
By constantly putting the men at these risks and giving them a character we feel for them and experience nail-biting moments because at any time something can go wrong. We feel what they feel and it is tense. These sequences are the strong point in the movie along with some time out moments on the base. The only part that feel like they’re part from a totally different movie is a scene where James leaves the base alone in order to find out who killed a little kid that was selling DVD’s near his camp. Despite suiting his adrenaline hooked character this sequence feels like it’s part from a Rambo movie. This is something Jack Bauer would do, not a soldier stationed in Iraq.
There are no big names in the starring roles, only relatively unknown actors. The supporting cast however consist of people like Guy Pearce, David Morse and Ralph Fiennes. And there’s a little role for Lost’s Kate: Evangeline Lilly as the wife of James. The acting is all solid and my guess is Jeremy Renner who plays William James will find more high profile projects from now on on his path.
Of all the movies I’ve seen now about the Iraq/Afghanistan war and set in those regions The Hurt Locker is one of if not the best movies in my opinion. It is a strong movie, which doesn’t point a finger at the American troops in Iraq but at the same time isn’t propaganda and is even further away from being a recruitment movie for the army. If there’s something you’re glad about after this movie, it’s that you have a simple desk-job. I know I was.