Like everyone else, I watched The Hurt Locker the year it came out. It was dutiful, really. The subject matter didn’t interest me but its female direction was like a monkey with a typewriter. That sounds awful, I know, but honestly, it was a bit of a sideshow. Just 10 years ago, you rarely if ever heard about a female director, period, let alone one who was taking on a project so classically masculine. A war movie, for christsakes. But Kathryn Bigelow didn’t just ‘take it on’, she was so fucking good at it, even boys had to admit it was great. “A near perfect movie,” one had to admit. “A full tilt action picture” said another. Gosh. It was so undeniably good that the biggest consortium of white men ever, the Acamedy, could do nothing but award in 6 Oscars (of 9 nominations), including Best Picture AND Best Director for Ms. Bigelow. Fuck yeah!
But I didn’t like it.
Rewatching it, I get why. Jeremy Renner plays hot shit Staff Sergeant William James, a…bomb guy. Pretty sure that’s the technical term. He gets all dressed up in a quasi-astronaut outfit and defuses bombs (ideally). His unit has only about 30 days left in their Iraq rotation when he’s assigned to them (their last guy got blown up) and they immediately want to throw him right back. He rushes into combat like he’s got a death wish, and worse, he puts his fellow soldiers at risk too. Sergeant Sanborn (Anthony Mackie), his subordinate, is particularly disturbed to be working so closely with what appears to be a straight-up crazy, reckless person.
This movie is rife with unapologetic toxic masculinity, and it was fucking hard as hell for me to make it through. In the army you don’t get to choose not to follow a whackerdoodledoo into combat, but from the comfort of my bed (it’s on Netflix atm), you betcha I was yelling obscenities at my TV.
Grudgingly, I can appreciate some of the craft in this movie that I was probably willfully blind to a decade ago. Bigelow uses hand-held cameras and an incredible 100:1 shooting ratio to make this film feel real – almost like a documentary. It’s also relentless. One scene barely ends before the next bout of trouble is upon us, usually already in motion.
I like the ending, what it reveals of James’ character – namely, that he’s happiest when he’s staring a ticking bomb in the face. But that’s essentially also my problem with the film. That his disregard for his own life is going to get everyone else in his company killed along with him. That their only move toward self-preservation is to kill him. Imagine being in Baghdad and contemplating that. That his risk taking and complete indifference to the rules somehow make him this bomb cowboy action hero when in fact, in real life, it makes him a moron and a liability. Personally I rooted against this guy, this “hero” because as much as I don’t really love watching people get turned into jam, at least it would give the rest of this unit a fighting chance. War is tough enough as it is. We don’t need to “up the ante” on a bomb squad in an active war zone. That should have been enough. Crazed war junkies intent on obliterating themselves likely would have been weeded out back in basic. The Hurt Locker is just punishing, and I get that the Academy didn’t want to give Best Picture to Avatar (I haven’t seen that one at all), but, ahem, I do believe Up was also in the running that year.