FF74 - Hurt Locker

Intro by Adam Pranica

We have been reviewing war movies on this podcast for nearly a year and a half now, and it is hard to believe that we have previously only reviewed one film that dealt with one of America's current wars. That other time was Green Zone, the Jason Bourne e-mails, Judith Miller and selves the Bush administration film from 2010. The characters were very broadly drawn avatars of real people and institutions put in play to make a point about the lies that got us into that conflict and that film seemed to lose track of the humanity of its characters because what it wanted to do more than anything was make a point about the war.

Today's film released two years earlier than that in 2008 is all about interrogating its characters and their strengths and flaws and the ways that the war has changed them as people. The central relationships in the film are between Jeremy Renner Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty, a three man bomb squad operating primarily in Baghdad as a rapid response team, called out to diffuse IEDs on a daily basis. Renner’s character is a bit unusual in the war film genre because he is the new guy who is at the top of the hierarchy and not the bottom. He is also a total action junkie, a fact that the film underlines with an opening quote about the war being a drug.

The squad has to learn to work together under needle-pegging stress and because he is so cranked out on the action, Renner’s character is not the best at communicating with his squad mates. A lot of reasonable criticism was leveled against this film by soldiers who observe the character's total disregard for real world safety procedures that are practiced by squads that do this work. The story makes the case for the hot dog and bomb tech which we know now just isn't a thing because that type of guy and anyone standing nearby wouldn't last very long. But this movie was very successful at the box office. It wasn't a smash hit like American Sniper or anything but it did very well and had an impressive showing at the Oscars that year.

One reason for that is the film's direction and director: Kathryn Bigelow displays a mastery of action set pieces and provides a deep exegesis on male relationships that feel special and new. For a genre so disproportionately male it is worth noting that one of the few women ever to direct a war film found something totally original and important to say about male feelings. The title comes from a box of objects that the Jeremy Renner character has amassed in his time dismantling bombs. They are the triggers and switches that stood between him and destruction, and while the concept of being blown apart by a bomb or not is totally binary, the question asked by this film is to what extent he has already been destroyed, and that is not binary, it is a spectrum.

This movie feels as different from a Vietnam era film as those films are from World War II films. There is a shift in what it feels like to be asked to do this for your country and that is partly about the context and setting, but it is also about what is in the hearts of the characters which is perhaps the most disarming thing about this film. What is the best way to go about disarming one of these things? Today on Friendly Fire, as we discuss the Hurt Locker.

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