'Hurt Locker' Is a Blast Without the Spark

The Hurt Locker
"The Hurt Locker" (Summit Entertainment)

It has been lauded by the New York Times as the best action movie of the summer. The New Yorker calls it quite a feat. A classic that will be studied 20 years from now. And Time gushes that its a near perfect movie.

Makes me wonder if any of those reviewers even know what EOD stands for.

The latest film from the director best known for the surfing bank heist flick "Point Break," "The Hurt Locker" is a duly admirable first attempt at an Iraq war action movie. Director Kathryn Bigelow's skill at delivering action, explosions and digital mayhem come through, but the film will strike most military viewers as a bit tone deaf.

But thats Hollywood, right?

Sure there are bomb suits, PackBots, plenty of red, green and black trigger wire, enough C4 to bring down the Green Zone and scores of tweaked out Joes waiting for the bomb squad to see whats under that block of Styrofoam on the side of the MSR.

And it'd be fine if it all stopped there.

The movie centers on the quietly intense and a bit loose cannon-esque Staff Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner) who steps in to replace an EOD detachment sergeant who's killed during a mission in Iraq mid-way through the deployment.

The films strength comes from the intensely psychological approach taken by the screenplay, with the interplay between an EOD techs studied intellect, selflessness and inherent recklessness moving the action in unexpected directions. James leads his team Sgt. J.T. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Spec. Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) --through a smoldering cauldron of daisy-chain IED ambushes, suicide vest defusing and bomb-making terror cells.

And all that excitement is fine. But the movie jumps the tracks when the team gets involved in a bizarre sniper duel with a team of contractor Saddam hunters, sponsors a booze-fueled combatives tournament in their hooch and when James embarks on an impromptu off-FOB outing with a pistol on his belt wearing ACU trousers and a civilian sweat shirt.

Its understandable when Hollywood doesn't get it quite right. They want drama, action and flow so they take some artistic license. Im not begrudging them for relying so heavily on the bomb suit (Ive never once seen an EOD tech wear one to diffuse a roadside bomb) or fudge the radio chatter or get the raid stack wrong theres no nit picking here. But Hurt Locker is not the best action movie of the summer and it will not be studied 20 years from now. Some of the scenes are so disconnected with reality to be almost parody. And thats where a film plugging along just fine breaks down.

It's a good first attempt at an Iraq war movie that finally does some justice to the men and women who fight there. Maybe we've come through the long dark period of Abu Ghraib guilt-ridden films that tell us how bad we are as Americans and how bad an idea the Iraq war was. Theres plenty of heroism, drama and excitement in the Iraq narrative that lends itself well to the silver screen without having to engage in moral critique.

So, bravo to Kathryn and Mark Boal (the screenwriter) for bursting through the Iraq-war-guilt envelope with a solid base hit. Maybe this will encourage other filmmakers and studios to support the myriad films that could be made from the simple drama of the job our troops do every day in the worlds war zones.

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