As months drag into years and years look to drag into decades in the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, the war there has become a predominant focus of our politics and, increasingly, our entertainment. There have been a slew of films dealing with the occupation and its aftermath: Stop Loss, In the Valley of Elah, Brothers and Body of Lies to name a few. The latest, and most lauded, is Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker. It tells the story of a group of Army soldiers who comprise a Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team — a bomb squad. Leading the group is Staff Sargeant William James (Jeremy Renner), a man who seems to have a constant surge of adrenalin running through his veins, and who seemingly gets off on taking on the most dangerous tasks with the most minimal of precautions. Joining James are Sargeant J.T. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie), who calls the operations, and thus butts heads most directly with James, and Brian Geraghty, as Specialist Owen Eldredge. Over the course of the remaining days of Bravo company’s tour, we follow the team as they deal with the harsh realities of war, including disarming a body bomb, embedded in the body of who James believes is a young boy he has befriended, called Beckham (as he plays soccer, and evidently, David Beckham is the only known soccer player in the world).
Though their work is difficult, dangerous and increasingly draining, through James’ eyes, we also see it as a rush, one that James realizes is the only thing he truly loves; indeed, one of the most poignant and heartbreaking scenes of the film comes after James returns home and realizes that he cannot live without the rush. It is, as noted by New York Times’ war correspondent Chris Hedges at the start of the film, that the “rush of battle is a potent and often lethal addiction, for war is a drug.”