The Hurt Locker
Streaming on Amazon Prime
Metadata: 2009 | R | 2h 10m
Genre: war, post-9/11, action, suspense, thriller, drama (Yes, it is all of these things... and probably more.)
Why I watched: It got a lot of buzz when it was nominated for nine Academy Awards in 2010, so that's why I first watched it back then. I've watched it a lot of times since.
You might also like: It's not nearly as good as Hurt Locker, but 13 Hours, also on Amazon Prime, is a very different (but still interesting) post-9/11 war movie. Like all the movies in this genre, it is not pleasant to watch. But it does depict an event—the siege on the American embassy in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012—that has occupied the consciousness of many people at one time or another (ahem, the 2016 presidential election). Plus, John Krasinski stars in it. 'Nuf said. For something that's gritty and suspenseful, but which depicts a very different sort of (mob) war, I highly recommend Scorsese's brilliant 2006 Best Picture–winner The Departed, now (thankfully!) streaming on Netflix.
Where to start? Richard Corliss of Time magazine called The Hurt Locker a "near-perfect movie," and he's right. There's not one single thing out of place in Kathryn Bigelow's famed Iraq war film, which follows an explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) team as its members dismantle improvised explosive devises (IEDs) in Baghdad in 2004. The stacked cast—including Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Guy Pearce, and Ralph Fiennes, to name a few—give stellar performances across the board. The film won six Academy Awards in 2010, including for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay (which was written by journalist Mark Boal, who had embedded with an EOD team in Iraq in 2004. Bigelow and Boal also partnered up to create their 2011 masterpiece, Zero Dark Thirty, which "documented" and dramatized the decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden.) Bigelow also won Best Director for Hurt Locker, beating out ex-husband James Cameron for his blockbuster Avatar. She remains the only woman ever to have won a Best Director award.
I could go on all day about how incredible this movie is and how talented the filmmakers are... but I won't (you're welcome). Let me just say this: There have been a rash of excellent books, movies, podcasts, and more that offer stories—compelling ones—about soldiers being bored, or being disillusioned, or being disappointed because they don't get the chance to test their own reactions to, say, killing a man. Matt Young's phenomenal memoir Eat the Apple, season two of the Serial podcast about U.S. Army deserter Bowe Bergdahl, and David O. Russell's (pre-9/11) Gulf War movie Three Kings all come to mind. (I highly recommend all of the above, btw.) The thing about these works, though, is that while I believe that the people in them (or on whom the fictional stories are based) feel this way, I can't relate. I can't personally understand what that boredom felt like, or how it could leads to that disillusionment and disappointment.
Hurt Locker is different. The film's tagline is "war is a drug," and it makes the best effort of any film out there to help you get it. As Sergeant First Class William James, Jeremy Renner pulls you into this dark vortex of what it's like to become addicted to a thing you hate; to learn to love the thing because now it's a part of you, it's something you need in order to be you; to not know where the thing ends and you begin; to lose yourself but also room for the people that love you. James is charismatic, reckless, and seemingly fearless, and Sergeant J.T. Sanborn, Anthony Mackie's character, provides the perfect ballast. Sanborn is competent, professional, and stable, and also his fear is palpable. The balance between the two characters is just perfection.
Before I spiral into a full-fledged ode to Anthony Mackie, let me just end by saying that if you haven't yet seen this movie you have a great experience ahead of you. If you have seen it before, like maybe when it came out nearly ten years ago (!!!), give it another viewing. It still holds up.