There are a lot of stressful jobs in this world. Stock broker on a New York trading floor, emergency room surgeon, or a bomb squad in Iraq. Hurt Locker follows three soldiers in a explosives disposal unit. Sergeant James is the team leader flown in to replace Sergeant Thompson after he got blown to bits by a bomb detonated with a cell phone held by a terrorist disguised as a meat vendor. Sergeant Sanborn is a tough veteran and Specialist Eldridge is the youngest of the team and provides support to the other two.
Thompson sets the tone early by ripping off the plywood, designed to keep mortars out, from the windows of his barracks because “wants sunlight”. Plus, it wouldn’t be much help if mortars come in from the roof he notes. James has a different notion of danger that is fearless and pragmatic. He also has trouble falling in with standard procedure.
It’s against this backdrop that the movie progresses as it tracks the days left in their tour. The movie isn’t plot-driven but more a collection of gruesome scenes of suspense in the desert heat. It captures the futility of a war without clear enemies as these soldiers go from crisis to crisis against bombs and locals harboring hostility thinly veiled with apathy. It’s a frightening world where bombs assembled with explosives and Radio Shack parts can be planted anywhere and detonated with a cheap cell phone.
James has a taste for danger that’s borderline reckless as he faces down one bomb after another with steady nerves but it grates on Sanborn who simply wants to play it by the book and get out with minimal damage. Eldridge is the young guy torn up inside as he struggles with the ordeal of war and watching people die before his very eyes, leaving him with guilt. James betrays a sensitive and deeply patriotic side of himself despite his appearance as a weary maverick. He’s a natural leader that doesn’t feel alive unless he’s looking into death’s eyes.
The portrayals of the soldiers are gripping because the soldiers themselves are almost caricatures of your stereotypical soldier yet each actor gives their character a raw but multi-layered depth. While the scenes are surreal they do a great job of keeping suspense and tension at a peak. It’s definitely one to watch.