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The Hurt Locker is a riveting, suspenseful portrait of the courage under fire of the military’s unrecognized heroes: the technicians of a bomb squad who volunteer to challenge the odds and save lives doing one of the world’s most dangerous jobs. Three members of the Army’s elite Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) squad battle insurgents and one another as they search for and disarm a wave of roadside bombs on the streets of Baghdad—in order to try and make the city a safer place for Iraqis and Americans alike. Their mission is clear—protect and save—but it’s anything but easy, as the margin of error when defusing a war-zone bomb is zero. This thrilling and heart-pounding look at the psychology of bomb technicians and the effects of risk and danger on the human psyche is a fictional tale inspired by real events by journalist and screenwriter Mark Boal, who was embedded with a special bomb unit in Iraq. In Iraq, it is soldier vernacular to speak of explosions as sending you to “the hurt locker.” Acclaimed director Kathryn Bigelow brings together groundbreaking realistic action and intimate human drama in a landmark film starring Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty, with cameo appearances by Ralph Fiennes, David Morse, Evangeline Lilly and Guy Pearce.

 

  The Hurt Locker by director Kathryn Bigelow

Often times, after a movie opens, folks will come up to me and ask a question or two, wanting to know how I managed this or that shot, or why I chose this or that approach to the film as a whole. But usually, they get around to what’s really on their minds, and they say something like, “What’s the most challenging part of the job of being a director?” They want to know about the tough stuff, the hard stuff.

We’re all like that, I guess.

We’re all interested in challenge.

The truth is, once you’ve decided on the material—and that’s the first tough call—all the rest of directing, from the camera work, to creating a visual grammar for the film, to post-production, fall into place on their own, at least for me.

But there’s a big if.

If…you survive the one fork in the road that you absolutely cannot back track on.

And that’s casting. Pick the wrong actor and it doesn’t matter how dazzling your camera work is, or how great the movie sounds, you’ll still end up toast.

For The Hurt Locker, I was lucky enough to work with a brilliant screenwriter, Mark Boal, whose direct, vivid writing about the inner life of men in the bomb squad had the ring of truth and honesty that can only come from first-hand observation. Mark is also a journalist, and he’d been in Baghdad with the Army, and seen with his own eyes the intense bravery and fear these men live with on a daily basis. In William James, he’d created an extremely complex fictional character rife with vivid paradoxes—both a thrill-seeking cowboy and a calm professional, at once a hero and a man adrift in his own isolation.

My problem? Finding an actor with shoes big enough to fill such a nuanced role. I needed a young Sean Penn or a young Russel Crowe. I needed, in other words, a miracle.

I looked and looked for quite some time and then happened to see a small independent movie called Dahmer, in which this terrific actor named Jeremy Renner gave an incredibly nuanced performance, eliciting compassion and revulsion in almost equal measure. It was an arresting display of major talent, and from that moment forward I was determined to work with him. I cast Jeremy as James.

Some folks involved in the financing of the movie were a bit concerned by the choice because Jeremy wasn’t (yet) a household name. They felt they’d have to work extra long hours to bring this bright new star to the public’s attention. But to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t all that worried. Though I still had to go and actually film the movie—and spend six months in the Jordan heat and sand—the hardest part of my job was done.