Now I know why The Hurt Locker was voted best film—it WAS the best film. This year seemed to have more than the normal number of really good movies. At least four of them were better than the winners in recent years: Up in the Air, Avatar, Crazy Heart, and The Hurt Locker. And though I loved Up in the Air and kept hoping it would win, I now understand why the Academy voters went for Hurt Locker.
We read about combat in Iraq, we see footage of troop movement and firefights, but none of what we read or see in the snippets of news coverage can convey the horror of this kind of war. Nearly all the wars we’ve engaged in, horrific though they may have been, were fought by troops facing the enemy, recognizing the enemy. Not so in Iraq where skirmishes take place in city streets with Iraqi citizens all around, observing, no way of knowing which are friendly, which are deadly. And the omnipresent IED’s have to be found and defused, for the safety of American troops as well as the citizens of Baghdad. The dangers are palpable as the bomb crew goes to work. And the tension in the theater as viewers watch and share in this danger is silently palpable.
Sgt. Will James (Jeremy Renner) is a thrill-seeking member of his bomb squad, the one who dons the heavy, protective suit and goes to defuse the bombs. He is proud to tell a Colonel visiting their unit that he’s defused nearly 900 bombs. At the beginning of the movie, we’re told that war can be addictive, and Will is obviously an addict. When he rotates back to his home and wife and son, he can’t stand the normality of civilian life, and he signs up for another 365 days in Iraq, doing the only things that allow him to stare down death in the bomb suit and feel that he’s truly alive.
For anyone who wants to really know what it’s like in combat in Iraq, take a look at The Hurt Locker. You’ll be able to see it, and feel it, and taste and smell it in all its ugliness.