The Hurt Locker is a powerful war movie that starts with the message that ‚war is a drug’. This message is personified in the character of William James, played with a wonderful mixture of childlike excitement and believable tension by Jeremy Renner. This way, The Hurt Locker does not only show the terror of a war against an unknown enemy but also the effect on the soldiers who have to fight it. And this way, director Katharine Bigelow managed to create a movie that is both a character study and a war movie and which presents its themes with a strong combination of shocking, horrifying but also spellbinding scenes.
As a movie about the present-day situation in Iraq, The Hurt Locker is not a war movie in the traditional sense – there is no clear presentation of ‘good soldiers vs. bad soldiers’. Instead, the American team in the centre of the story faces an enemy that could be everywhere and nowhere. For them, every civilian could be a terrorist, every friendly face could hide boundless hate. Katharine Bigelow was able to present this situation very believably and that way created a constant tension that dominates the whole picture from beginning to end.
The Hurt Locker is not a balanced movie – it focuses on the American soldiers and on their daily dangers. The people of the country they are occupying are mostly reduced to almost faceless killers – but it works in the context of the story since it underlines the problematic situation that the Americans face as they can never be sure who to trust. But the movie also makes sure to demonstrate that the Iraqi people suffer just as much from terrorism as the American soldiers. The scenes with a young, dead boy are almost unbearable and show that all boundaries of human behaviour have been crossed in this fight while another scene of a man who is forced to carry a bomb overwhelms the viewers with its open presentation of death and helplessness.
But The Hurt Locker achieves just as much of its greatness in the more quiet scenes as it does in its display of terror and fear. Especially through Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker demonstrates how these men are affected by the work they have to do. The simple shot of James, standing in a supermarket back home, looking at what seems like hundreds of different kinds of cereals perfectly shows his inability to return to what we would call a normal life, it shows that war has become a drug for him and he knows this drug might kill him but he needs it anyway.
Thanks to this central character and the fact that it doesn’t tell of a ‘conventional war’, The Hurt Locker becomes one of the most layered and fascinating looks at war, hostilities, mistrust and its consequences ever put on the screen.