Like my book reviews site, these are movie reviews I write for entertainment purposes only. These are just my reviews and my opinions. They are not endorsed by Blogger or any movie studios or anyone else. So there. I borrowed my scoring system from the Metacritic site, which does not imply an endorsement from them, although I think they do have a very nice website. I convert the 1-100 scores into 1-4 stars, essentially it works like this:

1 star = 25 points
2 stars = 50 points
3 stars = 75 points
4 stars = 100 points

And then if something falls about halfway between, then I'll give it an added half-star.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Hurt Locker

I have to say this might be the first great fictional movie about the Iraq war.  (Or Second Gulf War or whatever future generations will call it.)  To this point I think most movies dealing with the war have focused more on soldiers coming home from it like the recent "Brothers."  Unlike other war movies like "Platoon" that focused naturally on a platoon or "Saving Private Ryan" that focused on a squad of eight, "The Hurt Locker" narrows its focus down to just three men.

These three are Sergeant Will James, Sergeant JT Sanborn, and Specialist Owen Eldridge.  They're a bomb disposal unit stationed mostly in Baghdad in 2004, or shortly after the "shock and awe" campaign wound down.  James is not initially part of the unit, but is brought in when the former by-the-book team leader (a cameo by Guy Pearce) is killed by an insurgent bomb.

During his first mission with the team, it becomes clear that James is reckless when he sets off a smoke bomb for no reason, refuses to communicate with the rest of the team, and puts a gun to an Iraqi taxi driver's head.  In another time and place this might have earned him some trouble, maybe even a court-martial but there's no denying that James is really good at his job.  He's something of a virtuoso when it comes to bomb disposal.

And this presents a problem because James seeks out risk, often putting Sanborn and Owen in harm's way.  At one point Sanborn seriously toys with the idea of triggering a bomb and calling it an accident.  An ambush out in the desert involving some British soldiers (or perhaps mercenaries) brings the team together for some male bonding that's capped off by good old harmless wrestling.  That's short-lived as James continues to take needless risk to endanger his unit.

I was riveted by this movie.  It doesn't have the mythic pretensions of "Platoon" or the grandiosity of a "Saving Private Ryan" and the only known actors just make cameos.  The gritty style and lack of known stars makes it seem more realistic.  And the focus on three individuals means there's not much confusion about who's who or characters who contribute only one or two scenes.  We don't necessarily get to know these characters in-depth but by the end we know enough about them and the struggles they face.  And it does this without really preaching about the rightness or wrongness of the war so whether you agree with it or not there's nothing politically to set you off.

What's interesting to me is you can draw a parallel between this and another recent critically-acclaimed movie "Up in the Air."  They both focus on characters who perform a job most people would find very undesirable.  And both characters also have trouble connecting with people and giving up their unconventional way of life.  Except I think you'd have to agree that Will James is far crazier since he constantly risks his life--and those of others--to do his job.

That is all.

My score:  100/100 (4 stars)

Metacritic score:  94/100 (4 stars)

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