Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Jason watches THE HURT LOCKER

"War is a drug"

These words open THE HURT LOCKER, and that makes Staff Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner) an addict. Many critics have written about how great this movie is (98% on Rotten Tomatoes as of this writing), how it's brilliantly acted, incredibly tense, and has a clear claim to the best Iraq war movie to date (Not that it has much competition. Chattering pundits were fond to point out in recent years how poorly Iraq war movies did at the box office as if it was a cultural/political indicator, and didn't pay much heed to the fact that many of those movies were actually really bad). But this movie might be even more interesting as a study of addiction than as a (anti-)war story.

James comes in to lead an EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) team hunting and disposing of IED's in Iraq. The previous leader, Sergeant Matt Thompson (Guy Pearce in a cameo) was killed on their last mission. James comes in and immediately makes it known he's a bit of a wild man--he takes the boards off the windows, indifferent to the protection they provide. And on their first mission rather than send in the robot to investigate and possibly explode it from a safe distance, he dons the big padded suit, walks up to the bomb, and defuses it himself. He doesn't tell his team what he's up to. He keeps souvenirs from the bombs he defuses (he keeps them, and his wedding ring, in a box of "stuff that almost killed me"). Although the bomb scenes are plenty and are full of some of the tensest moments I've ever seen on film, the real drama isn't the threat from his enemies as much as the pain he causes his friends (or teammates at least)--just like an addict. He knows what he's doing will kill him someday, but he can't stop--just like an addict. His response to the shit caused by his reckless behavior is more reckless behavior (going from bomb disposal to urban warfare)--just like an addict. His behavior costs him all chance at friends or a normal family life--just like an addict. When he gets out, and has a chance at a safe, peaceful life, he returns to his destructive behavior--just like an addict.

I think that's enough. War is a drug; addiction is warfare, and this is a great movie that explores the nature of both addiction and war.
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