The Hurt Locker (2008)




Director:     Kathryn Bigelow. 

Starring:     Jeremy Renner (Staff Sergeant William James),  Anthony Mackie (Sergeant JT Sanborn),  Brian Geraghty (Specialist Owen Eldridge),  Guy Pearce (Sergeant Matt Thompson),  Ralph Fiennes (Contractor Team Leader),  David Morse (Colonel Reed),  Evangeline Lilly (Connie James),  Christian Camargo (Colonel John Cambridge),  Suhail Aldabbach (Black Suit Man),  Christopher Sayegh (Beckham),  Nabil Koni (Professor Nabil).

the problems facing a bomb squad in Iraq with the overwhelming number of IEDs to defuse or explode


Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film. 

The bomb squad in Iraq is using a robot to examine a roadside IED (Improvised Explosive Device).   The bomb team consists of Sgt. Matt Thompson, Sgt. JT Sanborn and Specialist Owen Eldridge.  They discover that the devise makes use of a one five five shell.  Now the robot will pull a little wagon filled with explosives to explode the device, but a wheel of the wagon falls off.  Thompson is the team leader and he decides to put on the heavy protective suit and put the explosives on the IED by himself.  Thompson walks over to the site and puts down the explosives.  He starts to walk away.  An Iraqi comes out from a building to dial the number that will set the IED off.  Sanborn and Eldridge run toward the man to stop him, but the man makes the call and the IED goes off.  The explosion kills Sgt. Thompson. 

The bomb squad now gets a new team leader.  It is Staff Sergeant William James.  Owen starts telling some tales of bad luck on the bomb squads.  Sanborn asks him what does he think he's doing and Owen says he was just trying to scare the new guy.  But the new guy is a very experienced bomb squad technical.  The squad goes to the place of the newly found IED.  When the guys arrive they wonder where are the soldiers who called in the report.  They see a humvee, but it is empty.  James looks around and finds the soldiers down a side street in a protective niche. 

James returns to the bomb squad.  He will not use a robot.  He puts on the protective suit and starts walking down the road.  Along the way he drops a smoke bomb.  This infuriates his two partners, especially Sanborn, whose job it is to watch him and his surroundings for his protection.  A crazy taxi cab driver comes racing down the street and Sanborn and Eldridge have to jump out of the way to avoid getting hit.  He drives right up to James in his protective suit, but James just stands there pointing his gun at the taxi driver ready to shoot him dead if need be.  He tells the guy to turn around and go, but the guy doesn't budge.  James starts shooting near the car and then shoots out the front windshield.  The taxi driver finally puts his car in reverse and backs up.  Sanborn and Eldridge then give the driver attitude.  James comes over and says to his partners:  "If he wasn't an insurgent, he sure the hell is one now." 

James continues on his way to find the IED.  He finds a large artillery shell hooked up with wires.  He disables the bomb, but then remembers the large red wire leading from the artillery shell.  He starts to pull it up and finds that it leads to a circle composed of five artillery shells.  James starts cutting wires again.  An Iraqi is watching him and walks over to ignite the IED from another point around the building.  But the Iraqi soon realizes that he's too late.  James has disabled everything. 

The next day Sanborn tells James that yesterday was not cool.  He did not appreciate what he did with that smoke bomb.  He calls James a redneck piece of trailer trash.  James seems to just laugh it off.  At this point there are only 37 days left before bomb squad rotation. 

The bomb squad goes to check out another report of an IED.  An Iraqi policeman reports an illegally parked car with something in the trunk that is very heavy because the car's rear end is weighed down.  James goes and finds his target, the abandoned car.  From the balcony of a nearby apartment building a man fires on the car.  There is a small explosion and the car starts burning.  James is able to put the fire out with the help of a fire extinguisher.  Now he has to search the car in detail.  Looking in the car trunk he finds it filled with rigged shells.  James realizes that the explosion would kill everything around him if it went off.  So he takes off his headphones (disabling any communication with his team) and decides to take off his protective suit and work without it.  He says if he is going to die, at least he is going to die feeling comfortable.

He starts cutting wires, but then realizes he has to find the initiator.  This is no easy task as he has to rip the car apart, section by section.  He finally finds the initiator, disables it and relaxes.  James walks back to the bomb squad vehicle and relaxes in the passenger side front seat.   Sanborn comes over to him and slugs him really hard in the face.  He says that's for taking off his head phones.  A little later an officer comes over to speak to James.  He says he really admires him and wants to know how many bombs he has disarmed.  James tells him 873 bombs. 

There are 23 days left to the rotation.  Sanborn talks to Eldridge about killing James.  Eldridge thinks he's kidding, but can't be 100% percent certain.  They hook up with James and start touring around.  They come across what looks like four heavily armed Arab fighters.  The guys drive up closer to them, get out of their vehicle and tell the guys to disarm and lay down on the ground.  The guys are really reluctant to obey these orders.  Finally, the front guy disarms and kneels.  When the guys start to interrogate him, the man speaks in perfect, unaccented English.  The guy tells the three soldiers that they are all on the same side.  They are contractors working with the soldiers, as well as working at times on their own. 

Everyone relaxes, but then one of the contractors is shot in the back and killed by a sniper.  A fire fight starts.  One of the contractors gets on the vehicle and starts firing the machine gun at supposed targets.  Suddenly the contractor is hit with a bullet and dies.  And still another contractor is shot dead.  Sanborn and James get out a sniper rifle.  Sanborn will be the sniper and James will check the targets, check the shots and guide the shots.   

Sanborn gets off one shot and then he has to have Eldridge get him some more ammunition.  Eldridge has to take the magazine off one of the dead contractors.  He finds it and delivers the magazxine, but the first bullet jams in the gun.  There is blood all over the bullets.  They give the magazine back to Eldridge and he has to wipe the blood off of each one of the bullets.  He and James do so and then Sanborn goes back to sniping.  It takes a lot of tries but he kills most of the enemy.  Eldridge, however, thinks he sees an Arab hiding among the black goats.  He is not sure and keeps hesitating.  The decision is his to make, so he finally points his rifle at the target and kills the Arab.   

Back at base the three bomb squad members wrestle with each other.  After they finish that Sanborn and Eldridge look through a box of James's stuff.  A lot of it is mementoes of defusing bombs.  James says that it is a box full of stuff that almost killed him.  Next they play a game of who can hit the hardest.  Sanborn and James trade punches to the gut.  Part of the explanation for this weirdness is that all three are drunk.  James pins Sanborn who demands to be let up.  When James delays, Sanborn pulls a knife and puts it up against James's throat. 

There are only 10 days left before rotation.  Eldridge has not been doing too well and the psychologist/psychiatrist Colonel John Cambridge periodically gives him some advice.  Eldridge mentions that his team leader James is probably going to get him killed because he is a bit of a wild man.  Eldridge is not all that enthusiastic about seeing Cambridge and he tells the doctor that one day he should go out with the guys in the field to see what their duties and problems are up close and personal.  This day Col. Cambridge asks to go along with Eldridge and the bomb squad.  Permission granted. 

The guys reach their destination.  They tell the doctor that the first thing they have to do is secure the area.  The three of them start this task.  The Colonel will help out by getting a man with a cart and other men to move out of the immediate area.  The guys systematically go through the buildings.  In one of the buildings they discover the body of a dead boy on an operating table.  James realizes that he knows the kid.  He has played around with the kid kicking the soccer ball and buying DVDs from him.  The sight of the boy on the table all cut up upsets James a great deal.  Worst of all, he realizes that the insurgents have booby-trapped the body.  He has to in a sense operate on the boy to defuse the IED.  He cuts some wires.  Then he has to open up the sewn up abdominal cavity, stick his hand inside and pull out the explosive.  He does so but it is hard on him psychologically. 

James rigs the building with C-4 and blows up the building.  Back at their vehicle the bomb squad waits for the Colonel who has finally got the cart man and some other fellows to move out of the area.  Returning to the vehicle, the Colonel steps on an IED and suddenly and literally just disappears in a huge explosion.  Eldridge feels a bit guilty for having suggested that the Colonel ride with them.  Later James calls his wife, but says nothing when his wife says hello repeatedly. 

James really seems out of it.  At gunpoint he forces the DVD seller, who hired the young Iraqi boy to sell his DVDs, to drive him to the house of the parents of the dead boy.  The vendor drops him off and then takes off quickly.  James slips into the house and confronts the father, who says he is a professor.  The professor tries to get James to sit down and talk to him, but James is too nervous and wound up to do that.  Then the mother of the dead boy comes in and she and her husband start loudly screaming at one another.  Then suddenly mom explodes on James and literally pushes him outside.  James has to run away literally.  He runs through town all the way back to base.  He has a hard time getting back onto the base. 

James is called out with the bomb squad to investigate an explosion that destroyed a tank.  They want to know if it is a suicide bombing or a remote detonation.  When James investigates he thinks the explosion was set off by remote detonation. And he is so impatient about catching the man or men who set off the IED that he has his crew go through the back alleys looking for the man or men.  Sanborn has a great many misgivings about such a mission.  He says this is not their job.  There are specially trained units that do these house to house searches.  But James insists that they go because he is not okay with letting the bombers get away.

The three men split up and go down three separate alleyways.  James and Sanborn don't see anything, but Eldridge runs into trouble.  Shots are heard and James and Sanborn joins forces to chase down Eldridge.  They find a dead Arab probably killed by Eldridge.  But where is Eldridge?  They start running and see two men carrying Eldridge between them.  They keep chasing the trio and when they get in close enough they fire on them.  The two Arabs are killed but Eldridge is wounded in the leg.  They pick up their buddy to get him medical help.

Eldridge has to be helicoptered to a hospital to get special care.  He is really mad at James.  When Eldridge sees James he tells him that his femur is broken in nine different places and all this because James wanted to get his adrenalin fix by chasing down the bombers, which was not even their job.  There are two days left to rotation. 

James has a new task.  A suicide bomber has changed his mind and wants the bomb squad to defuse his explosives.  The explosives are on a timer and there is not much time left.  James goes out in his protective suit to see what needs to be done.  The big problem is that the explosives are surrounded by an iron barred suit held in place by three different locks.  Sanborn has to run to get the bolt cutters.  But when James gets the cutters, he still can't seem to cut the locks.  He tells Sanborn to leave because there are only two minutes left.  Sanborn leaves but only after appealing to James to leave with him.  James cuts open one of the locks but now he has only about 45 seconds left.  He suddenly realizes that he doesn't have enough time to save the man.  He apologizes to the fellow who is begging him to help him and leaves.  A few seconds after James gets to safety the man disappears in a huge explosion. 

Sanborn is burned-out.  He tells James that he hates this place.  Sanborn says if he was blown to pieces, no one would really care, except his parents and they don't count because they kind of have to care.  He also says that he wants to have a son.  Sanborn asks James how does he take the risks that he does?  Every time they go out on an assignment, it's a life or death matter.  James doesn't really know why.  He says he just doesn't think about the consequences.  He just does the job. 

James is back home with his wife shopping in the grocery store.  His wife tells him to choose a cereal for breakfasts and he finds the number of selections overwhelming.  He seems very restless and a bit bored.  He tells his wife that they really need bomb techs back in Iraq. 

Helicopters arrive in Iraq with fresh troops.  One of the new guys in none other than Sgt. James. 

James is back on the job.  It's 365 days left to rotation for the bomb squad. 


Good movie.  It keeps you on edge virtually the entire time.  You are always wondering when they are going to make a mistake and blow themselves up.  Or maybe someone will trick them and blow up the bomb squad.  From the film some problems are very evident in Iraq.  One problem is that they don't know who is and who isn't an insurgent.  So they can't trust anyone.  The men are constantly confronted with the choice:  shoot or don't shoot and they never seem to be able to be certain of the decision.  Another problem for the bomb squads in particular is that they are always getting another assignment, another IED to defuse or blow up.  They never seem to get a much needed rest because they are so needed. 

Like I wrote above, it's a good movie, but not really that much history.   That was one of my particular disappointments.  Because my son doesn't care much about history, he liked the movie more than I did. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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