Most war movies overwhelm the audience with sound and fury. Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker teases the audience with what could happen. The bomb could go off. That spectator could be an insurgent. And the audience knows this can happen, because it already did.
In the film’s opening scene, everything goes wrong. The robot breaks, Staff Sergeant Thompson goes into harm’s way, and an insurgent detonates the bomb. And we feel it. The ground swells. The impact shakes dirt off of nearby cars. Thompson is quietly killed inside his suit from a hundred yards away, as his teammates watch helplessly from afar. We see how devastating one explosion can be. That knowledge keeps the audience on edge. We know what can happen and do not want it to happen again. Quiet is not a comfort. It’s a void waiting to be filled.
Which is why we’re amused and horrified by Jeremy Renner’s William James. We’ve seen how devastating one bomb can be, and he treats it like a game. While his team tries to determine whether an insurgent is watching, James removes his bomb suit and cracks jokes. We admire him and despise him.
The first lingering question of “Will they survive?” is paired with a new one: “Will James get them killed?” This dual tension permeates each moment, as James and his team inch closer to home and danger. For others, combat is something to endure and leave as soon as possible and we understand why. We’ve seen how awful single bullets and bombs can be.
And then James comes home. And it’s boring. James and the camera freeze in the cereal aisle because choosing a kids’ cereal feels pointless. James and the audience want the tension to return.
This is why Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker is an essential film. While most Iraq War films pontificated about the conflict’s flawed origins, The Hurt Locker (2008) makes us feel the war’s perpetual tension with one explosion and one unpredictable man. And then, when the danger is gone, how we could miss it. The Hurt Locker tells us war is a drug… and gets us hooked.
The Hurt Locker is available for streaming on Netflix and Showtime, digital rental on Youtube, Amazon, GooglePlay, iTunes, Fandango and Vudu, DVD rental on Redbox, and purchase on Fandango, iTunes, Vudu, and YouTube, and multiple box stores.