A bomb disposal team serving in Iraq ticks down the days left in their tour of duty, but the unit leader's seeming recklessness sows discord and fears that they will not survive. The Summit Entertainment release, nominated for nine Academy Awards, won 6 Oscars, including Best Picture.
By CBSNews.com producer David Morgan
"The rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug." Chris Hedges, "War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning"
The screenplay for "The Hurt Locker," based on incidents journalist Mark Boal witnessed while embedded with U.S. forces in Iraq, tells of men jointly engaged in the most terrifying job in the world: defusing improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in the midst of the insurgency in Baghdad.
Set in 2004, the film opens with the men of Bravo Company's Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) unit using a robot to search out and disarm a bomb in a Baghdad street.
When technology fails, the EOD leader, Sgt. Matt Thompson (Guy Pearce), must go in himself while his teammates keep a wary eye for snipers, or insurgents waiting for an opportune moment to detonate the explosives remotely.
Following Thompson's death, Staff Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner), dubbed by one military officer as a "wild man," takes over the EOD team, joining Sergeant J.T. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty).
From Mark Boal's screenplay:
James traces this wire, pulling it out of the ground, inch by inch, like extracting a buried root.
The more he pulls, the more wire gets revealed. It doesn't seem to end.
Overhead, a young factory worker on a high balcony studies James as he unearths the wire.
James demonstrates a coolness under pressure that appears (to his fellow EOD unit members) strangely reckless, as when he removes his protective gear and discards his radio while seeking a car bomb's hidden detonator.
Is James too reckless for the job, putting his partners' lives at risk for the sake of an adrenaline rush? Or is he just very good at what he does?
In addition to bomb disposal, the soldiers must face prospective snipers (as when they come under fire in the middle of the desert), or conduct searches in insurgent strongholds.
When James becomes convinced a nighttime fire is a proxy to draw them closer to a sniper's position, he leads them on a reckless raid into town where they are separated, becoming even more vulnerable.
The stresses of the job affect each EOD member differently. While some seek counseling, James grows isolated and begins taking risks beyond the parameters of disarming bombs.
Even the intimacy of a cell phone call home cannot bridge the divide he feels between combat and family life.
James is seemingly trapped between extremes: the world of war, where split-second choices can mean survival or death, and the mundanity of life back home, where one must decide from a multitude of breakfast cereals.
Beyond the mere choices service members make in order to conduct and complete a mission, to fulfill their duty, to protect their compatriots and even just survive a hellish experience, James' choice is an existential one: Under what conditions does one feel alive?
Director Kathryn Bigelow is only the fourth woman to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Director. No stranger to the action genre, her other credits include the vampire film "Near Dark," "Point Break," "Strange Days," "The Weight of Water" and "K-19: The Widowmaker."
Jeremy Renner, who is nominated for Best Actor for "Hurt Locker," was featured in "28 Weeks Later," as well as "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford," "Take," "North Country" (opposite Charlize Theron), "S.W.A.T.," and "Dahmer."
Anthony Mackie (Sgt J.T. Sanborn) has appeared on screen in "We Are Marshall," "Half Nelson," "8 Mile," "Million Dollar Baby," "The Manchurian Candidate" and "Eagle Eye." He has also appeared on stage in "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," "A Soldier's Play," and as Tupac Shakur in the Off-Broadway "Up Against the Wind."
Brian Geraghty (Specialist Owen Eldridge), who starred in "We Are Marshall" along with Anthony Mackie, also appeared in "Bobby" (about the assassination of Bobby Kennedy), "Easier With Practice," "Kews," "The Guardian," and "Jarhead." His TV credits include "The Sopranos," "Law & Order" and "Ed."
Also in the cast is Ralph Fiennes ("The English Patient," Schindler's List"), who appears as a British mercenary under attack in the desert.
"The Hurt Locker" was filmed in Jordan and Kuwait, at times within a few miles of the Iraq border. Iragi refugees were also featured in the film, such as actor Suhail Aldabbach, who played a man forced to wear a timed suicide bomber's vest which Renner's technician struggles to disarm.
Cinematographer Barry Ackroyd ("United 93" and the upcoming "Green Zone") used multiple Super16mm cameras to record the action. The handheld cameras gave a flexibility and jarring immediacy to the images (harking back to the DP's documentary background), and a harsh color that was as hot as the 120-degree temperatures the filmmakers endured.
No special visual effects or computer generated imagery was used to create or enhance any of explosions in the film. The opening sequence's massive detonation was captured on a high-speed digital camera.
Directors Guild of America
Kathryn Bigelow holds her Directors Guild of America Award for "The Hurt Locker," January 30, 2010 in Century City, Ca. With her is Danny Boyle, last year's DGA Award winner for "Slumdog Millionaire." Bigelow was the first woman to win the DGA's feature film directing prize.
Kathryn Bigelow poses with Jeremy Renner at the Academy Awards Nominees Luncheon in Beverly Hills, Calif., Monday, Feb. 15, 2010.
Kathryn Bigelow with her Oscars for Best Director and Best Picture, at the Governors Ball following the 82nd Academy Awards March 7, 2010. When asked for her reaction to becoming the first woman to win a Best Director Oscar, she replied, "Well, first of all, I hope I'm the first of many. And, of course, I'd love to just think of myself as a filmmaker, and I long for the day when a modifier can be a moot point. But I'm ever grateful if I can inspire some young, intrepid, tenacious male or female filmmaker and have them feel that the impossible is possible and never give up on your dream."