–smiles back at Eldridge–
MACRO: thumb on send button of the cell phone.
–running full out now–
Fireball blasts out from the bomb
— flattening Thompson
— Blood splatters the inside of his helmet.
— thick cloud of particulate matter roils out in slow motion
— hitting Eldridge and Sanborn – turning them black.
With the roiling cloud we begin to float up and out over the entire city of Baghdad:
— we see intersections hammed with traffic; American Humvees and tanks idle next to red-and-white taxis, beat-up Opals, the military and civilian mixed up in one snarling line, all competing for space, advantage…
–we continue to rise until we take in the entire massive metropolis. Mosques and office towards ascend from a maze of dusty streets teeming with life despite two decades of war…
The roiling black cloud thins in a light breeze and we hard cut to:
‘The Hurt Locker’ looks at a very exclusive and elite group of men within what is already considered to be an exclusive group of men (and women): the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) unit. Sergeant J.T. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) are literally counting down the days until their Bravo Company finishes their tour of duty in Baghdad. Unfortunately, the film opens with their team member, Staff Sergeant Thompson (Guy Pearce) being killed in action. He is replaced by a veteran from the U.S.-led effort in Afghanistan, Sergeant First Class William James (Jeremy Renner). Instead of finding someone who is a like-for-like replacement for their friend and leader, Sanborn and Eldridge encounters a person who is reckless, daring and have a taste for danger that is, at the best of times, not particularly advisable. It doesn’t particularly help Eldridge, who is already pushed to the mental edge with Thompson’s death, while Sanborn sees his chances of going home in one piece being…well, blown to bits. “Hey,” starts Eldridge as they pack up after their first mission together, “it’s just 39 days.” “38 if we survive today,” came the forlorn reply from Sanborn.
The scene I wrote of in the first section is actually taken word-for-word from the script of the film. I chose that scene, because within that first scene, we get a very good idea of what this movie is all about. Plus, I figured it would be interesting to approach this review from the script as well, given that the script has been highly praised for those who have read it. Nevertheless, by way of a disclaimer, it should be mentioned that there are two versions of the script floating around in cyberspace. This particular script is the revised first draft, while for those who are interested, you can also look for the shooting draft of the script.
Why did I chose the first draft instead of the shooting one? The reason is actually quite simple; though I have yet to finish reading both of them (if I ever do actually get around to finishing both), I did compare the opening scenes of both versions. I find that the first draft had a more dramatic tone to it. The shooting draft is more simplistic, in a way, and more straightforward, but it still differs from the actual scene that was shot. I think this is because from what I know, there’s a lot of difference between what we imagine initially, what we want to shoot, and what we manage to shoot eventually. This is a perfect example of that, and I think it would be interesting to highlight that.
One thing that is maintained from various script versions is the character description: “SERGEANT WILLIAM JAMES extends a hand. A former DELTA soldier is in his late twenties, good-looking, appealing face, solid build, one of the lucky ones. And yet, look closer. In the right light, there’s an unusual depth to his expression, to his eyes and all-American face, as if he’s guarding an inner chaos that could rush out at any time.” It is this inner chaos that Jeremy Renner managed to somehow portray through his performance. We see this in his reckless actions, ranging from staring down a rogue taxi driver to walking daringly, fearlessly, and perhaps stupidly, without much preparation or heed for the lives of others. “If I’m gonna die,” he said coolly as he took of his armour, “I might as well be comfortable.” However, it is commonly said that the greatest weapon in his arsenal any actor could have is his eyes, and it is here that Jeremy Renner truly shines. He has a very captivating look, a very intense and strong glare, that it is difficult to not look at them. It’s almost like meeting someone who you know is not particularly pleasant to look at for a variety of reasons, but it would take a huge effort to take your eyes off them. Here, though Mark Boal, the scriptwriter, may take the credit for putting it down on paper (after all, the scriptwriter is always the first person who sees the completed movie, from start to finish, in his mind), but Renner deserves all the credit in the world for bringing those words to reality.
He’s not just a macho man, though. He managed to portray William James with a lot of perceived arrogance and bravado, but there’s also a lot of humanity that comes through. Witness his dealings with the young Iraqi kid named Beckham (!) who sells DVDs just outside of their military base (Christopher Sayegh). See this in how he handled with the mentally-wrecked Eldridge, a treatment laced with more humanity than the on-base army psychologist, Lieutenant Colonel John Cambridge (Christian Camargo), who’s only response to Eldridge is the very textbook “You’ve got to change the record in your head.” In this way, then, a somewhat-peripheral character also served as something of a mirror to James, further highlighting his unorthodox methods. That should serve as a nice little metaphor for the film, because while Jeremy Renner steals the show, it doesn’t mean that the rest do not have a role to play. The rest of the cast members are also pretty good and believable, with Brian Gerharty playing his role particularly well.
This film, however, makes its living off the tension off each and every scene. It’s tempting to describe this as a type of psychological war drama, if one is to place it in a particular category. However, I feel also inclined to add the word ‘action’ and ‘thriller’ into the mix, because it feels as if there is some action, something thrilling in almost every scene. There’s always something going on somewhere, starting from the bomb in the opening scene to the stakeout in the desert to James sneaking out of the base on his own accord. The action may vary, but the thrill is somewhat the same. You can’t help but feel the same tension that these guys go through. In a place where you are not welcomed, everyone and anyone could be a friend or foe, and you won’t know until the bomb blows up in your face. The shaky realism of the camera work all adds to the tension. I know that Fazil wrote that he barely noticed the soundtrack, which, according to him, sounded more like “eeeeeeeeeeeeEEEEEEEEEEEEEE KA-BOOOOOM!” In truth, elements like sound and score are not always necessarily meant to be noticed (with especial regard to sound), but although it wasn’t constantly on, when it is laid on the scene it really, really adds to the tension; I was literally holding my breath during the UN building bomb disarmament scene. I can remember films that made me laugh, made me cry, and made me shake in horror. I can’t, however, remember the last time a film made me hold my breath like this. Other films (like ‘Redacted’) have been set in the Iraqi war, but few of the ones I have seen managed to capitalise on the seemingly-natural tension that permeates Iraq’s current landscape.
Given the amount of suspense and action that runs throughout the film, helped along greatly by Jeremy Renner…you might want to keep an oxygen mask handy when you’re watching this.
Fikri discovered by reading the script that the Beckham kid was initially named Pele.