The first film I remember Jeremy Renner appearing in was S.W.A.T. (2003). In it, he plays Brian Gamble, a disgraced former member of the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team for the city of Los Angeles, who is the film’s villain. His character is cocky and has a bit of a mouth on him. In many respects, it is similar to his James Coughlin in The Town (2010), even though he is not that movie’s antagonist. The point I am trying to make here is that he seemed to be heading for a career of being typecast as a criminal. Hey, whatever pays the bills, I suppose. Still, I like to see actors fill a number of different roles. That is why I am pleased to bring you The Hurt Locker (2008), the movie that, for this reviewer, is the first to show that he does have some range.
Set during the Iraq War, The Hurt Locker focuses on Sergeant First Class William James (Jeremy Renner). He is sent to that theater of the War on Terror in order to do what his training has taught him to do: to diffuse bombs. He is also there to replace Staff Sergeant Matthew Thompson (Guy Pearce), who had been killed when an explosive he had been carrying to a safe distance away from its intended target is detonated by an insurgent. He also must ingratiate himself with those who previously worked with Sergeant Thompson, namely Sergeant Thompson’s two former partners, Sergeant J. T. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty). Sergeant James has an unorthodox approach to bomb disposal, which does not always sit well with his new team. This comes up during their first mission together when Sergeant James does not adequately communicate his plan, at least in Sergeant Sanborn’s eyes. Sergeants James also interacts with the locals to a degree that most of the others avoid. Sergeant James’ behavior even leads his new partners to consider letting him blow himself up, though Sergeant Sanborn talks them out of it. They begin to bond a little more, though, when on the way back they encounter a British commando unit and get pinned down with them when they come under attack. During the fire fight, Specialist Eldridge displays a skittishness that is only calmed by the steadying presence of Sergeant James, and with teamwork they eliminate the threat. When they get back to their base, they bond further, with Sergeant James revealing to them how many bombs he had defused. He has kept a memento of each one to remind him of the danger of the work, and it reveals a different side to the other two. On their next mission, their base psychologist, Lieutenant Colonel John Cambridge (Christian Camargo) accompanies them. During their raid, Sergeant James comes across the body of one of what he thinks is one of the locals with which he had been interacting, and they find bomb making material as well. Outside, Lieutenant Colonel Cambridge is helping with crowd control when an improvised explosive device (IED) goes off, killing him. Specialist Eldridge has difficulty accepting this, and attempts in vain to search the area, only finding a helmet. For Sergeant James, it is the missing kid that hits him hardest. He leaves the base at night, asking locals if they know where the boy is, only to be met with hostility. He is also arrested when he tries to get back to base, but gets off when he claims that he had been visiting a whorehouse, though it is a lie. The next day, while responding to another call to check out where an IED detonated, Sergeant James is determined to find the person responsible. Ordering the team to split up, he and Sergeant Sanborn reunite when they hear gun fire nearby. When they discover the source, they find Specialist Eldridge being dragged away by two insurgents. Sergeant James opens fire, driving away those intent on capturing Specialist Eldridge, but wounding his comrade in the process. Later, as he is being airlifted away, Specialist Eldridge blames Sergeant James for the injury, claiming that their leader only went after the bomber to satisfy a desire for adrenaline. Sergeant Sanborn is shaken, too, when another explosive goes off and nearly kills Sergeant James, in an event eerily similar to what happened to Sergeant Thompson. Sergeant Sanborn begins to fear that he will die in Iraq, but Sergeant James reassures him that he will make it back to marry and start a family. Sergeant James can speak from experience as we see him shortly thereafter being rotated back to the United States at the end of his deployment. It would seem like he is happy to see his wife Connie (Evangeline Lilly), and his daughter, but life outside of combat seems less interesting for him. As a result, he decides to go back for another deployment, this time to Afghanistan, and this is where the movie ends.
The Hurt Locker is a tragedy. I say this because, while Sergeant James lives, he cannot find any meaning in life outside of the warzone. With the long War on Terrorism, and other recent conflicts, we have gained a great deal of knowledge about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Before I go any further here, please understand that I am not an expert. I am simply responding to what I see in a film, and using my knowledge of Faith to form an opinion. Clearly, God did not intend for us to kill each other, though it happens with far too much regularity, and, unfortunately, our world has a plethora of current examples to demonstrate the truth of this statement. Films like this one show the human toll involved when one cannot let go of the thrill of combat. I say this because the movie would suggest that Specialist Eldridge is right about Sergeant James. However, he does seem to have sorrow over this realization, which makes him a tragic figure. This is evidenced when he breaks down in the shower after Specialist Eldridge is wounded. For me, the most poignant scene along these same lines is when he is in the grocery store back home with his family. He looks around at all the choices in the aisles, and cannot cope with the situation like he can when there is a bomb to be diffused. Now, God blesses everyone with some distinct skillsets, though the Bible will tell you that He would rather see us beat our spears into ploughshares. This is why, for this Catholic reviewer, the end of the film is sad because he chooses not just the more dangerous life, but one that could end with him no longer being able to provide for his family if he were to die.
Despite the tragic nature of The Hurt Locker, it is a film that I still recommend, if for no other reason than it won six Oscars, including Best Motion Picture of the Year. Whatever it is you think of the Academy Awards, that is worth something, not always, but something. It is rated R, so it is a film not for general audiences. The rating is for the violence, and it is a deserved one. Still, if you can stomach these issues, it is a film that has merit. It appears to offer an honest look at war, instead of glorifying it. If more movies did this, perhaps peace would have a better chance.