The Hurt Locker opens our eyes to a realistic depiction of a bomb-disarming unit in Iraq. The explosive ordnance disposal team [EOD] is made up of Sergeant First Class William James [Renner], Sergeant J.T Sanborn [Mackie] and Specialist Owen Eldridge [Geraghty] whose job is to disarm the bombs that litter the streets. William is new to the team and has an unorthodox attitude to work, seemingly willing to risk his life unnecessarily to get the job done.
The film opens with the quote The rush of battle is a potent and often lethal addiction, for war is a drug. We see immediately that this applies to William all too well, as he frequently disobeys advice from the rest of his team by not using the robot to check the bombs first and ripping off his headphones when he doesnt feel like listening to orders anymore. His unpredictable temperament when in any life threatening situation boarders on the insane and pushes headstrong and rule abiding J.T and nervous Owen to the limit as he puts their lives in jeopardy as they count down the days until their rotation is over.
In one fantastically tense scene, the team discover an abandoned car loaded with bombs, which turns into a race against time to flee the scene as they begin to notice Iraqis filming and watching them from surrounding buildings. As J.T and Owen sense the threat and Bigelow cranks up the tension to boiling point, William is calmly attacking the problem as if he were changing a flat tyre. The situation is life and death, but William is a man who keeps bomb parts as souvenirs under his bed, and he continues to search the car inside out to disarm the bombs despite his teams frenzied pleas.
Bigelow presents William as a complex man who functions like a robot on the job, but occasionally shows a softer side to his character when he encourages a panicking Owen under sniper fire or in a genuinely touching scene when he gives an extremely dehydrated J.T his Capri Sun in the blistering heat of the desert.
The cinematography is gritty and close up, we can see every bead of sweat and drop of blood on their faces, and the close ups highlight every paranoid glance and split second decision they have to make. The film was set near the Iraqi border which lends credibility to the scenes as you can tell the heat is unbearable for the soldiers / actors and the tension coming from the threat of the hidden enemies and bombs is palpable. This is contracted nicely with a static shot of William back at home in a supermarket aisle lined with serial boxes. As we watch him peeling carrots for dinner even we are bored and wonder how soldiers can settle into normal life again after witnessing the brutality of war.
War, not love, is the drug in this gritty and gripping insight into the tasks of an EOD team, and Bigelow triumphs here in showcasing the talented acting skills of the three leads whilst creating an extremely suspenseful and at times, touching and humorous portrayal of the part these soldiers play in the war.