Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000 to 2009.
The Zeroes’ best fictional film about a real war, 2009’s The Hurt Locker offered unique perspective on the workplace high of delivering containment from chaos. Some people kick PowerPoint’s ass. Sgt. 1st Class William James (Jeremy Renner) saves his by defusing bombs.
If the efforts of Locker’s three-man bomb-disposal unit in Iraq felt episodic and patterned, how might you describe your job? Mark Boal’s screenplay intended no disrespectful equation of pushed papers to hellish war. It merely complemented gargantuan suspense sequences — staged by director Kathryn Bigelow with tension only a deep-tissue massage could relieve — with the idea that work, like war, can be its own consuming obsession.
Carrying pieces of defunct bombs gives James proof through the night that his mind is still there. Removed from a mechanism, they’re just pieces. Removed from his mechanism, James is a fragment, too, caring to process little beyond life-and-death scenarios. Spastic camerawork and disorienting sound swirls thrust us into James’ adrenaline-rush hypervigilance, and Renner nails the physiognomy of stress with his clenched face, corded veins and acne-scar sweat pools.
Locker ports over a spot of Platoon’s Elias / Barnes tension, putting James at loggerheads over operational procedures with process-driven Sgt. JT Sanborn (a stellar Anthony Mackie). Yet, of all things, a juicebox begrudgingly bridges to brotherhood during a maddeningly stressful sniper sequence.
In war, as in the workplace, it’s not why you are the way you are, but how it lets you do what you do best even alongside someone with whom you’re at odds.