I wouldn’t have thought that a war movie, much less a contemporary war movie, could be apolitical, but The Hurt Locker comes close. Whatever the personal beliefs of director Kathryn Bigelow and journalist-screenwriter Mark Boal, their film is a relatively open text, focused not on the political implications of the U.S. military presence in Iraq but on the day-to-day experiences of a single three-man team of Army explosives technicians, tasked with dismantling improvised explosive devices (IEDs) on the streets of Baghdad.
This is not to say, however, that The Hurt Locker is an morally empty experience, just guns and explosions and flash. For all the well-wrought tension and artfully constructed set pieces, the movie is powerful and thoughtful, an unflinching but compassionate look at the lives of three soldiers. Boal (whose journalistic work has been published in Rolling Stone, The Village Voice, and Playboy) spent time embedded in an Army bomb squad stationed in Iraq, and that experience reveals itself in every well-observed scene and every finely drawn character. The movie feels lived-in, populated by real people, not cinematic cannon fodder or propaganda pawns but true human beings, both flawed and heroic. It’s a thrilling, engrossing, almost too intimate film.