"I probably wasn't injured because I was way in the back of the vehicle. I was on top of all the bottled water, because I was little," my friend had explained, recounting how the troop convoy in Afghanistan encountered on IED on the road beyond the city. My friend paused a beat, then added before going on, "Well. I still am little."
The capacity to compress yawning gaps between the before and after of life-shaking violence to a simple, quiet change of tense is similar to the kind of detail you'll find in Kathryn Bigelow's film, set in the pre-Surge days of 2004 Iraq, which opens this week at Manlius Art Cinema. That is what sets it apart from most action thrillers and what drives its surprising capacity to comment on war in intimate and domestic as well as surreal and dislocating ways.
"The Hurt Locker" is billed as an action thriller and it certainly has both parts of that phrase in spades. Its exhausting two hours and eleven minutes fly by, but its pedigree predicts an authenticity beyond Hollywood style and pyrotechnics. Mark Boal based his script on his experience as an embedded journalist with a US military specialist bomb squad in Iraq and in fact the film opens with words from another journalist, Central New York native Chris Hedges, asserting that "war is a drug." This is from Hedges' 2002 book, "War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning," one of the best of a rich crop of efforts by war reporters since, say, the break-up of Yugoslavia, in which Hedges writes about why he left combat and genocide coverage. As well, the actor Jeremy Renner -- there is an excellent interview with him at NPR from earlier this week -- spent time training with such a team to get ready to play Staff Sgt. Will James, the audacious leader of the film's lead trio. Bigelow shot the film in the summer of 2007, just over the Iraqi border in Jordan and at the height of the Surge. Actual Iraqi refugees played most of the Iraqi roles and we may presume informed the film's progress. Renner says further that the conditions of the "set" were sometimes so hostile that the cast and crew had shots fired at them during filming; there's one passage in the film, apparently unscripted, when a gang of young boys pelt James' vehicle with stones.