Not With a Whimper

Kinda wish that bomb suit had a codpiece

All on my own, I caught the limited release independent film, The Hurt Locker, last Saturday at a nearby “art house” cinema. Had to go it alone because the womenfolk balked at going to what they thought would be a Die Hard style blood and guts guy film. This was fair considering I’d drawn the line at Julie and Julia, from a screening of which I was certain I’d never emerge alive.

But the ladies missed a good movie by ducking The Hurt Locker. The subject, an EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) unit in Iraq, certainly entails the shedding of some blood and the rapid dispersion of internal organs, but this was no gung-ho, over-the-top-men, CGI robot-suited, Bruce Willis, thrill-a-minute extravaganza. And if you were to call it a guy film you would astonish the female director and producer, Kathryn Bigelow (Blue Steel, Point Break).

The film is about work. How work absorbs the minds, emotions and souls of men who let it. Unexploded “improvised explosive devices” make for pretty absorbing work, of course. These guys stay really, really focused. But if the focus is a bit sharper than that of the barista serving lattes at your local Starbuck’s, espresso machine detonations being mercifully rare, still anyone who has had the good fortune to work at something he loves and who has experienced what pyschologists’ call “flow” — that self-forgetting immersion in activity — will recognize what these bomb-defusers are about.

Especially the primary bomb guy, Sgt. James, (played by Jeremy Renner who ought to, but won’t, get an Oscar). Sgt. James is nuts. Or you may prefer the word “wildman” as he is called by a Captain expressing amazement at his 800+ IED defusings. Sgt. James’ risk-taking earns him a lot of respect, yes, but it also inspires a fellow NCO to seriously consider pushing the plunger on a shell James is standing next to. His only real equals are his opponents, the bomb makers themselves, whose more ingenious fuses and timers he respectfully saves in a memory box underneath his bunk.

There’s some rough stuff — how could there not be? — but Hurt Locker is not another tough-guy flick featuring actors wearing impassive faces in front of green-screen demolition. It’s a convincingly realistic story about unusually dedicated men doing unusually grippy jobs in an unusually fried part of the world. A well told tale, and — this must be emphasized — despite the Iraq War setting Hurt Locker is NOT AT ALL POLITICAL. The mistake of sermonizing about geopolitics that has sunk all other war film offerings of the last few years (Lions for Lambs, anyone?) does not sink Bigelow.

Four stars and a danger sign: ☆☆☆☆⚠

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