The Hurt Locker: Gritty, sure. But realistic?

The courage of EOD – bomb disposal – staff is well worth celebrating and Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker does it brilliantly. Still, this is perhaps not all that accurate an account of the trade.

EOD people work to save lives by outwitting the best efforts of bomb-makers to make tamper-proof devices. By chance I’ve met a few of these people and came to the conclusion that it is very hard indeed to know what makes them tick (so to speak). I am pretty sure that Staff Sergeant James, our hero, is beyond atypical.

I suppose it is just possible that an eccentric EOD person might, on his first day in-theatre, strut off down a street toward a job, putting himself and – what is worse, his team – at hugely unnecessary danger. Rightly, his number two, Sergeant Sanborn, smacked him for that. James’s behaviour is all the more incomprehensible granted that he is a father.

It seems extraordinarily unlikely that James, shortly afterward, would take off alone into the back streets of Baghdad in pursuit of the people who’d murdered a young boy he’d become fond of. Or was he trying to find the family of the boy?

And would he really for reasons of vanity have put his whole team at extreme risk whilst he defuses a car bomb which could just as easily have been blown-up conventionally?

But the last and greatest oddity came when James heads off into the unlit backstreets, with his unwilling little team, to seek out some bombers. This was plain madness and if he’d insisted on doing it, I imagine that his team would have waved him off and good riddance.

I don’t know how unlikely it is that James and Sanborn and one other soldier would be wandering around in the desert in their Humvee, unescorted, and come across a raiding party of Brit privateers replete with human bounty and a flat tyre. The Brits sneer at the Yanks, because that’s what uppity Brits do in Hollywood movies, and a gun battle unfolds in which the Brits get their come-uppance.

In another necessary Hollywood trope, Sanborn – black, lovely, steady, funny, redemptive – gets to be the sniper hero with James as his spotter. It is a great scene, beautifully done.

This is a wonderful film and it has a stillness at its heart which is surprising granted the ferocity of much it depicts.


Very good review and very accurate in its description. IMHO and my own experience this man would never have got past the first interview as an ATO as they are quite keen on excluding suicidal adrenalin junkies
The Hurt Locker is a stupid film. The character 'William James' is cliché. He is a bad ass, chain smoking maverick - Americans love this because they value individualism. However in real life disobeying orders and endangering your colleges would get you kicked out of the army. Not that it matters to Americans, [RDN edited out some common abuse here].
Quite a while since I saw the film but it had a flavour present in almost all military Americana. Namely, a swaggering hero embodying all-American virtues - upright, morally impeccable particularly when juxtaposed to devious despicable Arabs (seasonally Russians, South Africans etc.), these virtues quickly revealed through a thin mask of a manly character defect (alcoholism or neurosis based on previous psychic trauma - seeing babies killed or discovering his fiancee's infidelity eg..). Giving snotty Brits (exaggerated public schoolboy speech and mannerisms) deserved comeuppance is a common crowd-pleaser even where writing it into the script is only possible because there is no actual plot or narrative - simply a succession of violent interactions. I can't recall the source but continue to enjoy musing on a like-minded summary on Hollywood films, viz: 'John Wayne surrounding the Red Army single-handed'.

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Publication date

08 March 2010


On movies