"War is a drug." Reporter Chris Hedges
"Up close and personal" describes director Kathryn Bigelow's numerous hand-held cameras, pervasive close-ups, and small number of actors in her powerful Hurt Locker. It's Baghdad, 2004; we follow non linear incidents involving a three-man bomb-detonating unit. The protagonist, Staff Sergeant William James, is aptly named if you consider the pragmatic philosophy of the great American thinker and this soldier's fearless de-fusion of IUD's. It's as If the philosopher said that war exists, and explosive devices are its lifeblood, so get over fear and fight.
Along the way, soldier James also thinks of his wife and son and a young boy given up bloodily to the Iraqi insurgency. One soldier describes James as "not very good with people, but a good warrior," summarizing a complicated man seemingly fearless facing the enemy. The buzz on Bigelow and writer Mark Boal is that the film is apolitical, yet no visceral story about war, such as Saving Private Ryan or Black Hawk Down, can separate itself from the idea that "war is hell" or as I opened this review, a "drug."
For James, it is a hell of his choosing and an addiction that doesn't separate him from his feelings for his fellow soldiers, his family, or even his unwitting enemy symbolized by the man who begs James to take off the suicide bombs locked on him so that he can live for his four children.
Bigelow's shots of the desert are dry, dusty, and vast. In one prolonged standoff with enemy in an abandoned house hundreds of feet away, she slowly traces points of view and bullet trajectories, as if all were performing a ballet with death. The individual deaths, undramatically executed by faceless snipers, are more harrowing than hordes dispatched at one time.
This war is no fun. But it is a way of life for James, as it was for so many warriors who voluntarily returned to battle. Go figure.