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The Hurt Locker

July 8, 2009 4:25 p.m.

KPBS Film Critic Beth Accomando's radio review of Kathryn Bigelow's "The Hurt Locker"

KPBS Film Critic Beth Accomando's review of Kathryn Bigelow's "The Hurt Locker"

Related Story: The Hurt Locker


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

KPBS FM Film Review: The Hurt Locker
By Beth Accomando
Air date: July 9 or 10, 2009

"The Hurt Locker" follows a bomb squad on the final months of its tour in Iraq in 2004. It's a soldier's eye view of the conflict that avoids politics. KPBS Film Critic Beth Accomando has this review.

HURT(ba).wav SOQ 3:55

(Tag:) "The Hurt Locker" opens Friday (July 10) at Landmark's Hillcrest Cinemas. You can find Beth's review and see the trailer for the film at K-P-B-S-dot-O-R-G-slash-cinema-junkie.

"The Hurt Locker" opens with this quote from journalist Chris Hedges: "The rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug." Then for the next 130 minutes the film mainlines adrenaline as it follows a three-man bomb squad on its daily missions in Iraq.

CLIP Drop the phone, I can't get a shot

In one sense, "The Hurt Locker" is an old school war film – muscular, focused almost exclusively on men in combat, and not interested in politics or making a statement. But the film’s also very contemporary as it serves up a portrait of modern combat. The unique tone comes from screenwriter and journalist Mark Boal, who spent time embedded with an Army bomb squad in Iraq.

MARK BOAL: When you strip away the political explanations for war and you strip away the economic explanations there's also a psychological component to why men fight, and Sgt. James in particular is a soldier who is addicted almost to combat and there's something about a volunteer army and the fact that all these men have chosen to be there and chosen to be in these very harrowing situations that I felt was a story worth telling. (:28)

The story centers on Sgt. William James, who serves as an example of a particular kind of modern soldier, says director Kathryn Bigelow.

KATHRYN BIGELOW: He is someone who is unpredictable, he's attracted to the allure of war, and the adrenalin of war and the chaos of war.

CLIP you're a wild man, I wanna shake your hand

KATHRYN BIGELOW: I'd say he's kind of shut down emotionally, but at the same time he arguably has the most dangerous job in the world and he welcomes it. (:22)

CLIP how many, 873, the way you don't die

James may be a wild man in terms of taking risks but he's one cool customer in the field.

CLIP What are you doing, if I'm gonna die I'm gonna die comfortably.

He's not a gung ho warrior itching to go out kill the enemy. He just thrives on impossibly tense circumstances where his skills determine if he survives or not. He's got a job to do and believes in getting that job done as quickly and efficiently as possible -- but on his terms. His style and attitude put him in direct conflict with Sgt. Sanborn.

CLIP not so bad first time working together, I talk to you and you talk to me, my mission is to keep you safe

Keeping safe, however, is not something James is necessarily interested in. In fact safety feels like boredom. That's one reason he can't function well in normal civilian life. His conflict with Sanborn reflects a philosophical difference, and Sanborn feels that James' attitude could lead to the whole squad getting killed. But with so many dangers in the field, it's difficult to decide who if anyone is right.

Jeremy Renner delivers a riveting performance as Sgt. James. He manages to create a fascinating character full of contradictions. On one level, Renner's character is just a guy doing a job, but it's a job with enormous ramifications. At one point he's called in to diffuse a bomb attached to an Iraqi man. The scene does not define the man as the enemy, he's just a person caught in a horrific situation and James wants to help by doing his job.

CLIP too many locks I can't get it off

As the two men – divided by language – try to communicate, we see the war summed up not in political terms but humans ones. It's a bad situation with no easy way out. Bigelow ends her film with an eloquent shot of James walking down to a "kill zone” —it signals both triumph and defeat, it's the cocky walk of a maverick and a condemned man's somber recognition of his fate. The film may not have an anti-war agenda but its images leave an indelible impression that can’t help but color your perceptions of war.

For KPBS, I'm Beth Accomando.