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The Hurt Locker
Director: Kathryn Bigelow (Dir)
Release Date:   26 Jun 2009
Duration (in mins):  127 or 130
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Cast: Jeremy Renner  (Staff Sergeant William James)
  Anthony Mackie  (Sergeant JT Sanborn)
  Brian Geraghty  (Specialist Owen Eldridge)

Summary: In the summer of 2004, in the war-stricken city of Baghdad, Iraq, the most dangerous job in the United States Army is undertaken by members of the elite Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) squads, who find and disarm bombs that have been set by insurgents. Sergeant Matt Thompson and Sergeant JT Sanborn of Bravo Company’s EOD unit use a bomb disposal robot to find suspected homemade bombs, called improvised explosive devices (IED), that can be detonated by remote control. Armed with a rifle, Specialist Owen Eldridge, the youngest member of the team, carefully observes the many onlookers who watch the team, knowing that any one of them might be an insurgent. Meanwhile, Thompson and Sanborn study the bomb from a distance and, after determining that they are unable to defuse it, attach the robot to a small wagon loaded with charge. As soldiers of other units move pedestrians away from the area, the EOD team remotely guides the robot toward the bomb to blow it up under controlled circumstances in order to disable it. However, when the robot becomes incapacitated a few meters from the bomb’s location, Thompson, the team’s leader, dons a cumbersome protective suit and approaches the site, as Sanborn and Eldridge guard him against snipers and other hostiles. After re-setting the robot, Thompson is returning to his team, when an onlooker detonates the bomb using a cell phone and kills him in the blast. Later, after packing up Thompson’s effects to send to his family, Sanborn returns to the barracks and introduces himself to the commanding officer’s replacement, Staff Sergeant William James. On his first mission with Bravo Company, James impulsively decides to suit up and check out the bomb in person rather than use the robot. Against Sanborn’s advice, James walks confidently toward the suspected bomb, releasing a cloud of smoke from a canister. Although the smoke hides him from snipers, it also impairs his teammates’ ability to protect him. A taxi drives toward James, menacingly, but he pulls out a gun and points it at the driver. When the driver refuses to retreat, James first shoots to the side of the car, then fires at the windshield. After moments of tension, the driver backs away and is apprehended by another company of American soldiers assigned nearby. Continuing his task, James cuts the bomb’s fuse, and then, finding wires that lead to several other bombs, defuses them. Afterward, Sanborn, who believes it is safer to follow trusted procedures, criticizes James for his reckless behavior. Eager for their tour of duty to end, Eldridge points out that they have thirty-nine days left on their rotation and, later, discusses his anxieties with Colonel John Cambridge, an army psychologist who advises him not to obsess over death. The next morning, James is amused by an Iraqi boy selling bootlegged DVDs, who works for a merchant selling wares on the base. When the team is later sent to an area near a United Nations building, they find that a bomb has been placed in a parked car. As the team approaches the vehicle, along with several other soldiers sent to evacuate the building, a sniper shoots and sets the car afire. Despite the chaos, James calmly orders Sanborn to cover him from a roof above them, then puts out the fire with an extinguisher. After finding several unexploded bombs in the trunk of the car, James astonishes his teammates by removing his bulky protective gear before disabling them. Although he defuses the bombs, he spends extra time unnecessarily searching the passenger area of the car for their igniting system. For Eldridge, who spots a man videotaping him, the tension mounts as time passes. Communicating by radio headset, Sanborn tells James several times that they need to leave, but James, motivated by curiosity about the bombs, removes his headset so that his thoughts are not interrupted. Aware that men on top of a minaret are communicating with the camera man, Sanborn again warns James, then he and Eldridge take cover. Meanwhile, James finds the ignition device and returns to their Humvee feeling satisfied. However, when Sanborn catches up with James, he punches him in the face and tells him to never again take off his headset. More favorably impressed by James’s behavior is Colonel Reed, who introduces himself and, with admiration, declares that James is a “wild man.” On the base, James again encounters the Iraqi boy, who has nicknamed himself “Beckham” after a famous soccer player, and plays ball with him. Elsewhere, Eldridge tells Cambridge that his team leader will get him killed, but Cambridge suggests that he change his attitude, as war is a once in a lifetime opportunity and can be “fun.” Skeptical, Eldridge accuses the doctor of lacking field experience and suggests that he see what they really do. Having twenty-three days left on their rotation, the Bravo EOD team is sent to find and discharge bombs set in the desert. When James goes off alone to retrieve gloves inadvertently left in the firing zone, Sanborn tells Eldridge that detonators often misfire, and the two of them discuss what would happen to James if a similar incident “accidentally” happened. Shortly afterward, the team prepare for an altercation when they spot four men dressed in desert attire, but soon discover that the men, who are British contractors changing a flat tire, are friendly. Unexpectedly, several snipers fire from the safety of a distant building and kill three of the British men. After an exchange of gunfire, the survivor and the EOD team wait while Sanborn shoots the insurgents one by one, as he spots them. When Sanborn runs out of ammo, James orders Eldridge to get more from a backpack on one of the dead men. Blood on the cartridge causes it to jam, and while Eldridge cleans it, he has a panic attack. James helps him through it, then helps Sanborn spot the remaining snipers. After several successful shots, the desert becomes quiet, but the men wait, unable to trust that they are safe. When Eldridge spots movement on a bridge that is camouflaged by the presence of several goats, James orders him to “handle it,” and Eldridge shoots and kills the last sniper. On the base, Sanborn and James playfully spar with each other and Eldridge mischievously tells James that he is not very good with people, but a good warrior. When Sanborn expresses surprise upon learning that James has an infant son, James tells him that he and his girlfriend married when she became pregnant, then divorced, but continue to live together. Sanborn confides that the woman he likes wants children, but he is not ready. Sanborn and Eldridge are also surprised to find that James keeps a box of souvenirs from the bombs he has dismantled. James tells them that the box is full of things that almost killed him and feels he has proved the point when his wedding ring is found among the items. When the team has sixteen days left on their rotation, Cambridge asks to accompany them on what seems to be a “standard” mission. As James, Sanborn and Eldridge search a vacant warehouse for unexploded ordnances, the doctor waits outside. After silently exploring the building, the team finds American ammunition and equipment, as well as the corpse of a boy that has been implanted with a body bomb. Believing the boy was Beckham, James cuts open the corpse and reaches inside to pull out the bomb, then reverently carries the body out of the building. Meanwhile, Cambridge is approached by several Iraqis, whom he urges to move away for their own safety, and is then killed by an IED left by one of them. That night James, who is disturbed by Beckham’s murder, telephones his wife, but does not speak when she answers. The next day, he asks the DVD merchant about Beckham, but the man cannot speak English. Suspicious that the merchant is responsible for Beckham’s death, James enters the man’s car at the end of the work day and, at gunpoint, forces him to drive to Beckham’s house. The merchant takes him to a residence, which James surreptitiously enters. Wielding his gun, James threatens the resident, who tells him he is a professor. The man, who presumes that James works for the CIA, invites him to sit down, but when his wife enters and sees the gun, she yells at James and forces him out of the house. James then runs through the streets back to camp, where, at the gate, he is treated with suspicion by the guards, but eventually allowed to enter. That night, the team is sent to the site of a tank explosion to determine if it was caused by a suicide bomb. As they search the perimeter of a fire for evidence, James guesses that the explosion was detonated remotely and that the “trigger man” is in the dark beyond, laughing at them. When he decides to search for the culprits, Sanborn argues that the infantry platoons are on hand for that task. However, James, being the superior officer, overrides him and insists that they search the dark beyond the blast radius. Several minutes after he orders them to split up, gunshots prompt Sanborn and James to look for Eldridge, who has been shot in the leg. The next day, James discovers that Beckham is alive, but pretends to ignore him when the boy invites him to play soccer. The injured Eldridge is loaded onto a helicopter that will take him to a medical facility. Before leaving, Eldridge exchanges warm farewells with Sanborn, but accuses James of risking their lives with his reckless need for danger. Two days before the end of Bravo Company’s rotation, Sanborn and James are sent to a checkpoint where a man, who has bombs strapped to him, is begging for help. Translators explain that the man is not a suicide bomber, but a good family man who is being used against his will. Although Sanborn warns that the situation is too dangerous, James wants to help. He suits up and approaches the man, as Sanborn and others remain alert for snipers, but discovers that the bomb has a timer. Forced to acknowledge that he cannot save the man, James apologizes, then moves away to avoid being killed in the explosion. Afterward, Sanborn, who has been broken by the incident, admits that he hates the place and the job, and that he wants a son. When Sanborn asks James how he is able to take risks, James cannot explain why he can face danger so easily. Many days later, James is back home, shopping for groceries with his wife. He cleans the gutters of his house, then, as they prepare a meal, tells his wife stories about his experiences. While playing with his baby son, he tells the child that as one gets older, many things no longer seem special. He says that there are fewer things you really love, and confesses that he thinks he loves only one thing. James does not feel content until he returns to Iraq as a member of the Delta Company. 

Distribution Company: Summit Entertainment, LLC
Production Company: Voltage Pictures
First Light
Kingsgate Films
Grosvenor Park Media, LP
Director: Kathryn Bigelow (Dir)
  David Ticotin (1st asst dir)
  Lee Cleary (1st asst dir, Canadian unit)
  Nick Harvard (2d asst dir)
  Yanal Barakat (2d asst dir)
  Michelle Fitzpatrick (2d asst dir, Canadian unit)
  Ashley Bell (3d asst dir, Canadian unit)
  Dale Bredeson (Trainee asst dir, Canadian unit)
Producer: Kathryn Bigelow (Prod)
  Mark Boal (Prod)
  Nicolas Chartier (Prod)
  Greg Shapiro (Prod)
  Tony Mark (Exec prod)
  Donall McCusker (Co-prod)
  Jack Schuster (Assoc prod)
  Jenn Lee (Assoc prod)
  Kirk Shaw (Assoc prod, Canadian unit)
Writer: Mark Boal (Wrt)

Subject Major: Bombs
  Death and dying
  Military occupation
  United States. Army
Subject Minor: Abduction
  Americans in foreign countries
  English in foreign countries
  Fathers and sons
  Military bases
  Officers (Military)
  Suicide bombers
  War injuries

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
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