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on June 26, 2012
Normally I feel this would be irrelevant but in this case I should point out I am a veteran. I should also point out many people tend to exaggerate their combat expertise and experience and just because you wore a uniform doesn't make you an expert on all things military. As I read these reviews I can't help but laugh. Sure, some movies tend to go way over the top in regards to what's realistic or even plausible but there is one caveat that all of the people who are lambasting the movie based on realism are failing to grasp. Realism doesn't sell; if I were to make a movie about the average day for an average soldier no one would watch it. So you say, what about these documentaries that do well financially following soldiers in war zones? Have you ever met anyone who ever acted one hundred percent natural and themselves when they know they are being filmed? I watched this movie and I think it was a very good, entertaining movie and that's what movies are supposed to do, ENTERTAIN. The difference between myself and some of the negative reviewers is that I'm not naive enough to watch a movie and think it is fact or that writers/directors don't take MASSIVE liberties with situations or their realistic nature; even "based on a true story" movies do this because if they were 100% fact and no fiction no one would watch because again, they would be very boring. I am smart enough to separate reality from Hollywood movie making and I don't need personal experiences to do this. For those of us that know Hollywood doesn't make realistic movies and don't think this is supposed to be a real life documentary (hello, it never billed itself as such) then I think they will thoroughly enjoy this movie. Of course if it's important for you to point out "they weren't wearing the right uniforms" then obviously you take life way, way, way too seriously to every enjoy a great movie and in that case should skip this one.
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VINE VOICEon June 26, 2009
I wasn't familiar with director Kathryn Bigelow's work prior to watching Hurt Locker (she directed Point Break, K-19, and others), but I am now a convert. She directed a brilliant and visceral Iraq war movie, which unlike many of its peers, is also apolitical. It's not overly preachy (In the Valley of Elah or Stop Loss) or pure action (The Kingdom), but manages to strike its own ground. The scenes are gritty, shaky; thankfully the shaky cam/documentary style footage is tastefully done here. The movie was filmed on location in Jordan, lending to the film's authenticity and immersivity. The viewer can almost taste the dust in the air, and feel the stares from the unwelcoming populace. It's the first mainstream movie to highlight the work of bomb defusal technicians , and it's a thankless and extremely hazardous job. The movie is Black Hawk Down good, albeit on a more intimate level.

The movie follows three members of Bravo Company's Explosive Ordanance Disposal (EOD) squad, as they struggle to finish the last few days of their year long tour of duty. Everyone copes differently; Specialist Eldridge (Geraghty) is overwhelmed at times with the death that surrounds them, Staff Sergeant James (Renner) is addicted to the rush of battle, and Sergeant Sanborn (Mackie) supports James as best he can. James is a complex, fascinating and tragic character; he's extremely competent, yet eccentric and even reckless to the point where his teammates consider fragging him in order to make it back alive. In a thoughtful gesture, he respects the work of his adversaries and keeps all the trigger mechanisms of bombs he has defused in the past. Every engagement the soldiers experience until their departure affects them, and we see every emotional impact.

Big Hollywood names like Ralph Fiennes, Guy Pearce, and David Morse make short, but memorable appearances. Even LOST actress Evangelline Lily has an extended cameo as James' wife. The bomb defusal scenes are nerve-wracklingly tense, and the audience sweats alongside the defusing technician. The team constantly scans for snipers, or the suspicious civilian about to make a cell phone call to trigger an IED. The movie does an excellent job of communicating the hazards of the EOD job, and one leaves with a deep appreciation of their work.

6 stars, highly recommended. It is an action filled, yet contemplative movie.
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on June 26, 2009
The movie opens with the quote - "the rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug" (a modern paraphrase of Churchill's older and more famous maxim - "there is nothing more exhilarating than to be shot at without result")

This is a thriller of a movie about a U.S. Army bomb disposal unit in Iraq and their daily grind in dealing with the IEDs and insurgents there.

This movie does have several stars - but Ralph Fiennes, Guy Pierce, and Evangeline Lilly all have fairly small roles. Blink, and you'll miss them. Their presence in this movie is more a testament to director/producer Kathryn Bigelow's status in the entertainment industry than anything else.

Jeremy Renner is Sergeant James, a bomb tech. Unlike his affable predecessor, he is a wild man. He seems not only indifferent to the dangers of his job, he absolutely revels in the dangers. It is the ultimate in thrill seeking behavior, getting that dopamine surge in his brain. Near the end of the movie, Sgt. James gets accused of being an adrenaline junkie, but we know now that the neurochemical at work here is dopamine. Bomb disposal is not just a job for him, but his passion, his addiction, his reason for being in the Army.

Renner's character ends up like a cross between Elmer Fudd, with his perpetually placid and slightly befuddled gaze, and Bugs Bunny, with his wile and lust for excitement and danger.

His two partners in the unit, Sgt. Sanborn and Specialist Eldridge, who have to cover him and just want to survive their tour of duty, don't know quite how to deal with his determination to confront danger. One wonders at why Sgt. James puts himself in danger, why he takes the extra risks to defuse a bomb when detonating it would do. The scene that explains it all is when Sgt. James returns home to America one day and we see him doing the mundane chores of life as a civilian, cleaning out the rain gutters, cleaning up the kitchen, shopping with his wife and baby at the grocery store. As he stares at an entire wall full of colorful cereal boxes stacked along a grocery store aisle, a look of utter blankness, boredom, and despair fills his face.....nope, not for him, this dull life as a civilian....

The movie's storyline is a series of daily missions, almost like a documentary or a TV series, each episode standing alone and yet building upon previous episodes, each one presenting a new danger, a new challenge, another piece of the puzzle that is the war in Iraq.

What makes this movie work is the recreation of Iraq in this movie - it was filmed in Jordan with local Iraqi expatriates. We feel the oppressive tension of the whole country, of not knowing who the bad guys are and where the next bomb or bullet is going to come from. We feel the fear and uncertainty of the American soldiers, caught between their desire to be the good guys and wanting to make nice with the local Iraqis, while constantly needing to remain vigilant and suspicious, never knowing who is a good Iraqi, and who deserves to get shot. We feel the bewilderment and resentment of the local Iraqis, who get pushed around at every turn by the American soldiers.

Unlike so many other recent Iraq war movies, this movie makes no political statements, there is no right or wrong here. These are just men at work, doing a dangerous and dirty job, and these guys are darn good at what they do for their country, whatever the reasons are that they are doing it.
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on November 1, 2010
First off, I'm a captain in the US Army and I've done two deployments in Iraq. I won't beat a dead horse, it's been said enough by my fellow vets so I'll keep it as simple as possible.

What this movie gets right:
-The look and "feel" of Iraq

What this movie gets wrong:
-Numerous technical issues, uniforms, equipment

What this movie gets UNFORGIVABLY wrong:
-The portrayal of Soldiers as undisciplined cowboys
-one vehicle convoys
-white light flash lights in the dark (essentially walking around with a bullseye on you)
-splitting up to cover more ground (a.k.a. suicide)
-sneaking off the FOB alone (just ask the Soldier being held by the taliban what a great idea this is, seriously what was he thinking?)
-EOD doesn't disarm IEDs unless they have to, 99% are detonated in place usually by remote controlled robot, not a guy in a bomb suit

If you are a civilian and want to see a decent portrayal of what Baghdad looks like (the scenery and Iraqis I mean)then watch the movie, if you've been there I wouldn't waste your time with this movie. I thought HBO's mini series Generation KillGeneration Kill was much better, the Marines in Generation Kill weren't just a bunch of, as one reviewer said Hollwood cliches.

I apologize, this wasn't as short as I'd hoped, bottom line... watching this I felt somewhat honored by the film makers attempt to share the experience of a Soldier in Iraq, but at the same time insulted and angry at just how wrong and Hollywood-ized so much of it was.
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on August 1, 2009
As a retired Army Bomb Disposal Team Leader I have to say it's right up there with 'Danger UXB' and A+++++to the writer and the director!!! A really well done depiction without the usual Hollywood hype/litery license/theater/BS.
Oh, yea, about 'not being able to adjust after the regimented life', it has nothing to do with 'not being able to' and everything to do with 'not wanting to'. You'll enjoy the view into the lives of this very small brotherhood of military Bomb Disposers.
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on March 28, 2010
I really wanted to like this movie. And I did. The performances were strong, the direction was decent, the script had some kinks but overall it worked for me.

Now there will be a lot of Vets who will destroy this movie over technical stuff or just unbelievable plot turns. I could even add my own: you don't key a radio next to a bomb. Never. When the bomb tech holds his radio up to the unfortunate Iraqi forced to wear a suicide vest, I cringed. You don't do that. No cell phones or radios. Ever. "You're 10-2." Ka Boom.

But it wasn't enough to ruin the movie for me. And any movie that tries to show what our soldiers are going through is always a good thing (unless, of course, it's JARHEAD, which I didn't see but read the blistering review in the New York Post by a furious Iraqi Veteran).

It takes a while but the characters start to emerge and you like the three guys the film focuses on. Especially the "wild man" who discovers the one thing in life he loves. Excellent actors like Ralph Fiennes and Guy Pearce make appearances. And some sequences are very well edited for maximum suspense.

Another thing that hurt this film: Hollywood politics. Kathryn Bigelow, the director, beat her ex-husband James Cameron (AVATAR) for Best Director. I knew that was going to happen. In a business where powerful men (like Cameron) who dump wives for younger women (like Cameron) deserve to have their comeuppance, Hollywood-style. That dynamic, I believe, diminishes Bigelow's win. Sadly. Yes, it was about time a woman was honored for Best Director, but Hollywood's zeal for drama and their taste for revenge sullied her win. It will always be there.
I'm not saying she didn't deserve it...I just wish it had been under different circumstances.

So I liked the cast, loved some sequences. I will appreciate any film where our boys are heroes. So check it out.
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on January 12, 2010
I wanted to like this movie...I really, really did. I had seen and read alot of hype for it, rave reviews, and alot of talk of Oscars. After watching it however, I can't see why.

There have been alot of war movies over the years, but there has yet to be anything worthwhile watching for Iraq. This is not Platoon, the Dirty Dozen, the Battle of the Bulge, it isn't even Inglorious Basterds. True, other Iraq fair has fallen flat or just plain sucked. This wasn't as bad (Over There) and didn't have an idiotic and misguided political statement (Redacted...Marc Cuban burn in hell) but it wasn't all that good.

There's the typical military irregularities, such as uniforms (US flags are worn on the right shoulder of soldiers but in the movie they're either on both or none), equipment (magazines disappear and reappear between scenes, and the 6 wheeled APC used by US soldiers is in fact an APC used by the South Africans, not Americans) and overall impossible situations (a single vehicle by itself? REALLY?). These SERIOUSLY detract from the movie, so anyone not familiar with anything military get a somewhat twisted inaccurate view of operations in country.

The storyline overall really has no point, as all it is are daily missions, almost vignettes, of the EOD team's daily ops.

The last 15 minutes is the only thing that saves this movie and gives it a star. the acting, emotion and theme (I won't spoil it) would've made this an AMAZING movie, had it been a constant throughout. Sure, there's small snippets of emotion and feeling, but at times too brief to really feel it.

Yes, I can see this movie receiving some nominations, such as best actor for Jeremy Renner, but to win it I think is a bit much. As an active duty soldier with over 8 years service and 2 deployments, this movie just seemed lackluster and some of the situations too far fetched to really appreciate the movie, although it wasn't the total crapfest of other movies (Home of the Brave)
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on February 6, 2010
Had I not served in Iraq in 2004, perhaps I could have maintained a suspension of disbelief and enjoyed the film. However, it is extremely irritating to have the producers of this film and high-level movie critics gush about an "accurate depiction of war" when it is about as close as 2001: A Space Odyssey is to an accurate depiction of NASA. The writer claimed he spent "some time" embedded with an EOD unit, but I can't imagine his time amounted to too much more than a week.

Let's start with some glaring discrepencies. In the film, all soldiers seen are wearing uniforms known as ACUs, which feature the digital camouflage pattern. In 2004, those uniforms had not yet been fully developed or issued. Soldiers wore the DCUs, which feature tan and brown woodland-style camouflage patterns. ACUs were being field-tested with select units, but the prototypes still retained the traditional camo. At that time, only the Marines were wearing uniforms with digital patterns, though their uniforms feature different color patterns and different cuts. Additionally, every soldier wears an American flag patch on the right shoulder. These were conspicuously absent throughout.

The presentation of humvees and other military vehicles add a further level of unreality. Military vehicles typically have unit and vehicle identifations stenciled on bumpers, doors, or hoods. The names of principle occupants are usually stenciled on each side of the windshield. The dashboard and area between the front seats is packed full of radio equipment. There are generally MREs and misc. mission oriented debris lying around the interior. Not much of this was evident. What was evident was the utterly and completely absurd medivac scene that featured HUEY helicopters. Yes, those same Hueys that saw a great deal of service during the Vietnam War, but have long been replaced by the ubiquitous Blackhawk.

The ridiculous misrepresentation, misuse, and absence of military equipment continues on down to things like night optical devices (NODs). NODs are those things soldiers strap to their helmets and flip down over their eyes to see in the dark. All throughout the movie, the three main characters are shown to have the NOD mounting plates attached to their helmets. Yet, when they tear off on a hunt for bad guys during a night mission they run around shining flashlights, which is tactically one of the dumbest things a soldier could do.

Running around with flashlights at night is but one example of things real soldiers would not do. They would not split up "to cover more ground." An enlisted soldier would not call a colonel "colonel." He would call the colonel "sir." A soldier would not sneak out of base disguised as a civilian, hijack an Iraqi's car at gunpoint, confront an Iraqi family, then weasel his way back on base with the lame excuse he'd been to whorehouse. There would have been serious consequences to his actions. The film gives the impression that the three EOD soldiers are gun totin' cowboys who answer to no one. In reality, there would be commanding officer who would, at the least, issue operation orders and hold the NCOs to a certain level of accountability.

The characters themselves are fairly unbelievabe. They don't talk like real soldiers. I didn't hear "hooah" uttered once. Nor did I hear much of the plethora of abbreviations and acronyms that comprises the military jargon spoken by soldiers. While SSG James' two sidekicks are cardboard cut-outs of Hollywood military cliches, James himself is an erratic, irresponsible, borderline-psychopath who would not last long in the leadership of men or the diffusement of bombs. His obsession/concern for the Iraqi boy he has unrealistically befriended is completely out of character.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. On the plus side, the landscape does look like Iraq, and the urban shots replicate the appearance of Baghdad quite well. The acting is adequate, I suppose, but I was not particularly enthusiastic about any specific performance. Quite frankly, it amazes me that they would make a film this sloppy and inaccurate, when correct information is so readily available. As it is, this is not a realistic war movie; it is a fantasy with nearly as much imagination as Avatar.

On a closing note, if you want to see an excellent film that provides an accurate view of the Iraq War in 2004, check out "The War Tapes." It's a documentary shot by soldiers themselves, and provides honest insight into the impact of war's daily grind.
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VINE VOICEon January 12, 2010
I wonder what sort of review I would have given "the Hurt Locker" had I not spent 11 years in the Army (about half active duty and the other half reserve and the Guard). I probably would have liked it a lot, but my military experience (which predates the Iraq War but did involve Yugoslavia, Saudi Arabia and Iraq in 1990 and 1991, and Panama in 1989 made the departures from realism (that were invisible to a lot of reviewers here) stand out like blinking neon signs:

1. I thought the idea of the "cowboy" EOD technician sneaking out of the base to go on his own into downtown Baghdad at night in 2004 was laughable, when you think about the fact that I'm sure every soldier over there knows that if they fell into enemy hands, they could expect extremely unpleasant deaths.

2. Set aside the unrealism in item 1, the fact that the cowboy didn't get in trouble for doing something so outrageously stupid and criminal (since he did force an Iraqi at gunpoint to take him downtown) was also ludicrous.

3. I will defer to soldiers and Marines who have served over there and especially to EOD technicians, but I found myself extremely dubious that those guys would be out by themselves in such a dangerous environment. No, they would have had security with them in the form of infantry who would keep watch and protect them while they did their work.

4. The absence of officers apart from one who gushes about the bravery of the cowboy EOD tech and the psychiatrist who gets himself blown up was unrealistic too. Those guys would have answered to a captain or a lieutenant, or a warrant officer in real life.

5. The whole interlude where they were out in the desert with some British mercenaries (or at least that's what I thought they were) was a jarring disconnect given the fact that these guys were EOD techs and not special forces operators. The fact that they were out there by themselves for a prolonged period made no sense since in real life, they would have been yelling on the radio for a quick reaction force or even support from a helicopter.

6. I also found myself thinking, "this is BS" when the two EOD technicians suddenly became a highly effective sniper team operating a weapon that I would imagine very few service personnel who aren't trained and designated snipers or SF operators would ever see (a Barrett .50 caliber rifle)

"The Hurt Locker" has some beautiful and striking visuals and there are some scenes with genuine tension like when the cowboy EOD tech discovers that the single IED he's found is only the first stage in a multiple IED set up...but as I said in my review title, these moments of genuine, realistic excitement got overwhelmed by the silly stuff.

Frankly, if you want to see bomb disposal work that looks more realistic to my eyes at least, you should try renting or buying the British series "Danger UXB." That seemed far more realistic than "the Hurt Locker"


Update: According to someone who works EOD who made a comment below, EOD teams sometimes use Barrett rifles to blow up devices, so the two guys playing sniper wasn't quite as silly as I thought it was ... but the overall interlude of them out there with the British mercs remained very silly in my view.
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on February 7, 2015
THE HURT LOCKER is a tense but emotionally distant war film from director Kathryn Bigelow, and starring Jeremy Renner. It follows an Army bomb disposal unit around as they do their job in war-torn Iraq. Unlike most war films it doesn't really take a stance on whether or not we should even be there, instead focusing on the psychology of warfare and what it does to the human mind. I thought that this approach mostly worked, although it kept the audience at a certain distance emotionally from the characters. The main character is played by Jeremy Renner, and he is the sergeant in charge of the unit. He is brash, reckless and one could almost say he has a death wish. What is closer to the truth is that he just loves what he does, and the thrill he gets from doing it. Also in his unit are another sergeant and a specialist played by Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty, respectively. They serve as counterpoint to Renner's character, and as a rational check against his unbridled nature. While most of the film deals with their bomb-defusing exploits, there are some moments when the true ugliness of the Iraq War shows its face, such as a tense nighttime scene in which Renner's character stalks someone he thinks is responsible for the death of a young street vendor he met. He ends up in the wrong place and just leaves before the situation escalates. It is in moments like that where the film hints at a possibly deeper reading of the film in terms of whether we should have even been in Iraq in the first place. That being said, the film is well-acted by everyone involved and the handheld cinematography worked in its favor, putting the viewer into the heat of the situations that arose. I guess my biggest gripe would be that it never explicitly challenges American presence in Iraq, but it's not necessarily a film's job to do that for you. With what it portrayed, and who the main character was, it still allows you to draw your own conclusions. For one, it must take a special someone to be a bomb disposal expert. And also, not everyone is cut out for combat. Overall, THE HURT LOCKER is a solid piece of filmmaking and an interesting look into modern warfare.
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