Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker begins with a quote by Chris Hedges that states, “The rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug.” That makes perfect sense. Adrenaline is the most powerful stimulant on earth, and fear of losing one’s life provides the most powerful release of it.
Certainly, the soldiers in The Hurt Locker are in one of most frightful – and thus exciting – situations anybody could ever put themselves in. On duty in Iraq, they are charged with the task of disarming bombs that could go off at any minute. After the leader of an elite unit is killed in action, sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner) is brought in to take his place. Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty are the two men assigned to protect him as he works on preventing the explosions.
Academy award winning director Kathryn Bigelow (the first woman to win), working from an original script by reporter Mark Boal (also an Oscar winner), films The Hurt Locker with a gritty energy that casts us right in the middle of the action, experiencing the adrenaline rush along with the put-upon soldiers. Bomb disarming presents a similar tension for an audience as the quick-draw. At any moment, death is just a fraction of a second away.
We see how the soldiers deal with this constant fear, and the results are startling. Despite firing their guns in actual battle, the adrenaline is so powerful that they release their energy in shoot-em-up video games, afterwards. The music they listen to is violent and pounding. They indulge in fights – and homoerotic ones, at that – to further release the pent up rush of energy. It’s sheer physicality, really. Their bodies have created excess energy, and it needs to be driven from their systems.
This manic energy is contrasted brilliantly with life back home in the States. While on leave, James visits a vast supermarket in middle America, as calm a place as can be, and he is lost: no one is panicking; nobody needs him; no one is afraid. His life has become empty.
The performances are terrific all around, with a pitch perfect cast. Several cameos from veteran actors Ralph Fiennes, David Morse, and Guy Pearce add gravitas and prestige to the movie. These were actors who were proud to be part of such a well-crafted project.
The Hurt Locker offers no overt attempt to be anti or pro war. It simply presents us with a vivid depiction of life in the battlefield, and lets us draw our own conclusions. Like all great works of art, it presents the material in such a way that both sides of the debate can find things to admire about it. At the very least, the movie proves it’s point. “War is a drug,” it claims, and its argument is persuasive. By the time the last frame rolls by, we realize that Mr. Hedges is 100% correct.