A film about bombs that doesn't 'bomb'

The Hurt Locker

Starring Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty, Ralph Fiennes
Directed by Katherine Bigelow

Rating: IED doesn’t just stand for improvised explosive device, it also stands for intense exciting drama. This is one of the best movies of the year — a close-up look at the mechanics of fighting a war of occupation.

On a recent Friday night at the ticket counter of a local multiplex, an explosive situation developed. Several guys were waiting in line discussing what film to see. Most of them strongly wanted to see Transformers, while one was equally vocal about seeing The Hurt Locker. The situation got so intense that another person in line used her cell phone to call for help.

Within minutes, a team of individuals arrived. Many of them were slightly overweight, while others were lanky and pale. They wore glasses, had small notebooks and pens, and wore Bermuda shorts and sandals with untucked pastel shirts. When they arrived, a couple of them quickly and efficiently secured the doors and stood guard while two others cautiously approached the now anxious and uncomfortable patrons in line. One of them spoke.

“OK, let’s everyone calm down. We are the CDU — Critics Demolition Unit — and we’re here because we got a call about an explosive situation regarding what film to see. Is that right?”

A woman meekly confirmed that she had placed the call.

“OK, now. Very calmly, Miss, tell us what’s going on.”

The woman explained the situation.

“OK, everyone. I want all of you except these arguing guys to quickly but calmly buy your tickets and move on. Quickly now.”

Everyone but the quarreling guys scrambled to get their tickets and move into the lobby, except for those who quickly decided to leave the theater altogether.

The quarreling guys were now alone — looking somewhat perplexed and annoyed — standing in the same place they were in the line before the CDU squad arrived. The leader carefully approached this now quiet group, but not before putting on plenty of padding: shin guards, shoulder pads and an athletic supporter.

“OK, I need everyone to stand perfectly still. I am going to approach you now. Don’t make any sudden moves. I’m going to attempt to defuse this situation. My colleagues here are going to secure the area. There’s nothing to be alarmed about.

“Now I want you to listen to me very carefully. What I am about to say may sound shocking, but don’t be alarmed. You ready? You all should see The Hurt Locker and not Transformers.”

With that, one of the guys who wanted to see Transformers became visibly agitated and started to open his mouth to object.

One of the CDU members yelled out, “Let’s get out of here! He’s going to launch!” But the unit leader turned and held up his arms to admonish everyone to relax.

“It’s OK. It’s OK. Everyone calm down. It’s under control.”

Turning back to the guys in line, he continued.

“Now, let me say this again. You all want to see The Hurt Locker. Let me tell you why. This film has explosions and gun violence, just like Transformers. It also includes the use of the military and battles, again like Transformers. You like that don’t you?”

The guys remained still and looked flummoxed, but they were listening nonetheless. One nodded hesitantly.

“OK. Now that we have agreement there, let me tell you more. The Hurt Locker has herky-jerky camera movements and quick pacing, just like Transformers. That pique your interest?”

As the group stood in stunned silence, the squad leader moved a little closer with his hands in an open, nonthreatening position.

“Now, even though they have these in common, these two films could not be more different. The Hurt Locker is a realistically intense film about the Iraq War . . . .”

With that, one of the guys started to yell at the unit leader, “The Iraq War! I haven’t seen any of the Iraq War movies, and I’m not about to start! I’m sick of hearing about that war! I want to see a movie that takes me away from all that! Get out of my way!!”

Then he grabbed the unit leader’s arm and pushed him out of the way. The unit leader lost his balance but recovered in time to put himself between the guy and the ticket counter. The rest of the unit was shouting and yelling for the unit leader to back off and save himself, but when
they saw he was in control again, they ceased.

“Now son,” the unit leader said quietly, yet firmly, “Hold on a minute and hear me out.”

The guy, clearly annoyed, was equally impressed that the unit leader would be so bold, so he halted his progress.

“OK. You have two minutes. I’m timing you.”

With that, the angry guy held up his LED watch to show the seconds ticking down.

The unit leader was taken aback. He’d been expecting to be pummeled by this guy and was amazed he was spared. Instead, he struggled to regain his composure and started to sweat. He stumbled a little at this ticking challenge but carried on.

“Um, what? Only two minutes? Um, ah. OK. Well, um, you just should see The Hurt Locker instead.”

The rest of the squad groaned. Still, the leader continued.

“Um. This isn’t like those other Iraq War films. It doesn’t preach about the war, saying it’s good or bad. It focuses tightly on a couple of guys who defuse improvised explosive devices. You could relate to these guys.”

The rest of the unit was impressed that the unit leader was using this line of argument. The leader kept looking to the seconds ticking down, but tried not to get flustered.

“Um, these guys are not depicted as rah-rah grunts, nor are they raw recruits. They are there to do a job and get it done. As they go about defusing the bombs — in very realistic settings in the streets of Iraq — their specific personalities are displayed. They encounter bombs buried under the streets, in the trunk of a car, and strapped to an innocent Iraqi civilian. The suspense and tension is palpable. The scenes are intense and realistic. The characters are intelligent and true to their values and beliefs.”

The unit can tell that this is beginning to bore the guys and start to get anxious. They start yelling at the unit leader to quicken his pace and try other tactics. Half ignoring them, he struggles to continue.

“Um. What else? Oh. The movie is not as long as Transformers, so you can get out and get to a bar sooner. And, and, uh, the film has an intense battle in the Iraqi desert when the demolition squad is attacked by snipers. They have to find shelter in the flat landscape and locate and shoot back at the snipers. It’s a cool scene!”

The squad leader notices the watch ticking down. He has only a few more seconds.

“Oh! And, and, the guys are scarred by the war, but in unique and individual ways. The lead demolition expert gets so focused on his work that he has a hard time relating to the real world. The thrill and challenge of defusing bombs becomes intoxicating and more normal than normal life.

“And, and … a wimpy and preachy Army psychiatrist gets his just desserts. And, and. Did I mention the explosions and battles?”

The guy with the watch says, “Time’s up.”

The CDU holds its collective breath and they gird themselves for the explosive result. The guy walks past the unit leader and up to the counter, leans in to the speaker, but before making a selection turns to the unit leader, who is sweating bullets and holding his breath, and says, “Yeah, that all may be so, but does it have Megan Fox?”

He then requests a ticket for Transformers.

A member of the CDU then yells to everyone, “Hit the deck!” And they all lay of the ground while all of the rest of the guys still in line step over them to order their ticket for Transformers. The unit then slowly gets up and backs away. Maybe next time ...

Doug Young is The Statesman’s outstanding film critic. He works for Sen. Mark Udall. In 2008, he won first prize for humorous writing in the Colorado Press Association’s annual contest, where he received a 100 percent score for his film reviews.