As Dirty Harry once said (in Magnum Force):
A man’s got to know his limitations.
Alas, the folks who put up The Hurt Locker for nine Academy awards do not know theirs. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have heaped nine Oscar nominations on this film.
And we shudder to think what’ll happen on Oscar night.
Make no mistake, schmucks.
The Hurt Locker is not a bad movie.
Actually, it’s a fairly decent movie that has you in its grip for the better part of its playing time.
But it’s just not a film that merits extraordinary encomiums.
Filmed (in Jordan) in the wake of George W.Bush’s unpopular and ill-fated attack on Iraq, Hurt Locker follows a group of ordnance/bomb disposal squad members of the U.S. Army posted in Iraq.
These are the dog days of the war, unlike the present-day, relatively more stable and less violent Iraq.
Life’s hard for the U.S. soldiers in the dusty environs of a hostile country and the clear and present danger.
For these unfortunate ‘trailer trash’ cannon fodder, both black and white, death is a constant companion from the below-ground IEDs, above-ground snipers, on-ground suicide bombers, ambushes and other horrific attacks from a deeply resentful populace.
And Hurt Locker does a good job in showcasing the omnipresent dangers the three-man bomb squad faces in its daily forays outside the Green Zone.
A danger highlighted in the early moments of the movie through the death of an IED-defusing member of the squad (IED, for all ye dodos is the reference to improvised explosive devices, the lethal bombs cunningly buried on roads to kill and maim American servicemen).
Dusty Road to the Oscar
Replacing the dead soldier is Sergeant William James (Jeremy Runner), a gung ho ‘wild’ guy, seemingly mindless to the risks, disdainful of army procedures and, oh yeah, unconventional for sure in his approach to the deadly mission of defusing bombs before they can unleash their horrific effects on the soldiers and bystanders.
As James dons his thick astronaut-like protective gear, helmet and all and clumsily, repeatedly walks down the dusty road toward the implanted IEDs, you are unsure if he’s heedlessly marching toward his death or valiantly marching toward glory.
James (by the way, Jeremy Runner who plays him has won an Oscar nomination for Best Actor) is a cool cat unlike his more emotional partners Sanborn and Elridge.
Only twice does he lose his composure and even then it’s not the usual manic fury of a soldier out to wreak vengeance but a controlled anger. Interesting.
For sure, Runner plays his part well but is it an Oscar worthy performance?
Well, that depends on who’s watching.
Bottom Up Look
There are the obligatory goats (in the desert and in the city too), the suspiciously-acting Muslims standing around, watching and seemingly waiting for the attacks on the soldiers and the unsurprising tension between the three soldiers in the Humvee and outside sometimes explodes.
But there’s no politics here.
No spiel on liberating the natives. And certainly no speeches on spreading “God’s gift of Democracy” to the Iraqis.
Merely, war as seen from the bottom up, from the perspective of three ‘foot soldiers’ performing an extremely dangerous job in a dangerous part of the world.
While the ‘small picture’ focus on war is not uninteresting, this is not the stuff of great movies.
Not the story. Not the acting. Not the action.
You don’t feel the thrill, the adrenaline rush of watching an exciting movie. At least, we didn’t.
Like we did last year with Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire.
The Hurt Locker story based on a script by Mark Boal, who observed the war at close quarters while embedded with a U.S. Army bomb squad in Iraq, occasionally locks up just like Sanborn’s rifle during the less-than-thrilling ambush in the desert.
Although never far from the soldiers’ thoughts and flashed frequently on the screen are the number of days left for their tour to end, many return to the battle-ground.
As if taunting death.
You can rent Hurt Locker DVD from RedBox or Netflix in the U.S.