William James (acted by Oscar candidate for best lead role Jeremy Renner) is a character that is hard to forget. He is a soldier whose expertise is to defuse bombs. He played dices with fate more than 800 times and won each time. When he enters a bomb threat scene he walks directly to the target, with the sure straight walk of an American hero. His enthusiastic commander officers believe that he does ‘hot sh.t’ and congratulate him. His soldier fellows think that he is crazy and that he endangers himself and the other carelessly. When asked how he does it he shrugs and just says ‘I try to be careful and stay alive’.

William James is different from his fellow soldiers. Those are not heroes. They are just normal people, young men doing their tour of duty in Iraq, counting back the days to the end of the tour, and hoping that they will survive it. They are professional, well trained, but not heroes, and they work in a hostile and paranoiac reality, facing a country and a culture that they do not understand. Every civilian can be a terrorist, shooting can start from behind any sand dune or from around street corner, any bag, any car, any corpse can hide a bomb, any situation can escalate into violence.

The situations in the film are not totally new for those who have seen previous films about the Middle East conflict, and especially the Israeli films Beaufort and Lebanon. As in ‘Beaufort’ the soldiers are equipped with all possible armors and technical gadgets that make them superior militarily, but their superiority is apparent, as victory is not at hand because the reality around does not allow for military victory.  Same as in ‘Lebanon’ most of the soldiers are disoriented, cannot find the familiar milestones in a reality that speaks and behaves differently than the logic of their human experience. ‘Hurt Locker’ is ‘Beaufort’ and ‘Lebanon’ re-written and directed with the skills of a Hollywood professional.

One of the best scenes in director Kathryn Bigelow‘s film puts the hero in the situation of trying to find the parents or relative of an Iraqi teenager killed by rebels, and whose body was bobby-trapped with explosives. In a typical Hollywood movie hero gesture  he tries to find ways to tell the story of his death. Iraq does not behave however according to the classic film rules, the tentative turns into misunderstanding and almost ends in tragedy, and only a hysterical escape of the hero and armed soldier saves his life. Dialog seems impossible, human relations are poisoned by the hate and mistrust injected by the political situation.


Do we get to understand the motivation of the character? Actually never. The invincible hero has a family and a life that expects him after the tour of duty. When he is back home his wife does not understand his war stories and would rather have him slice the vegetables and fix the roof, and his kid does not really know him. His only thrill has become the war, actually an addiction, the addiction of playing dices with fate. We never get an explanation of the hero’s personal evolution in this strong and subtle anti-war movie . His tragedy started long before the action of the film starts. He is a victim of war as all the other.

The film was nominated for the Best Film Oscar. If there was any cinema justice on Earth ‘Hurt Locker’ should win rather than ‘Avatar’. Yet, I do not think that it holds any chance in the competition with a film that made maybe one hundred times the money. More information and reviews about the film can be read at http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0887912/