Hurt Locker: Movie Review and Lessons Learned

I’m a fan of the movie “Hurt Locker.” This is a movie about a three man U.S. Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Team in Iraq.  It follows their journey in day to day life of the war.

The movie does a great job showing what war is like from the Soldier’s perspective.  That’s why I think the movie gained such popularity since being released.

No, I don’t think it’s one of the best war movies ever (maybe top 50), nor do I think it was worthy of winning an Academy Award for Best Picture.  But, I do think the movie had great acting, lots of intense battle scenes, tons of suspense, and it was very entertaining.  I was glued to the screen throughout the movie.

As an Iraq War veteran myself, I could relate to many parts of the movie.  On the other hand, I found many parts of the movie disturbing and very unrealistic.  The Hollywood effect definitely skewed things and made parts of it hard to even imagine (such as the insubordination, violation of protocol, and pure recklessness).  That being said, the movie was still captivating.

One part of the movie that I really did enjoy were the lessons learned.  Even if many parts of the movie are unrealistic from the way things in EOD and combat are really done, I think there are a few key takeaways that would benefit any military leader.  My goal in this post is to talk about those lessons learned and share my thoughts on each subject.  Enjoy.

Lessons Learned

# 1 The Role of EOD on the Battlefield

Since the start of the war in Iraq, EOD played an important role.  IEDs and UXOs have killed many Soldiers and civilians.  EOD definitely helps minimize this impact.

EOD has a vital mission on the battlefield.  EOD has five functions on the battlefield, which include: mobility, security, survivability, logistics and intelligence.

  • The mobility mission is to examine UXOs and IEDs
  • The security mission is to protect VIPs
  • The survivability mission is to examine UXOs and IEDs, along with range clearance
  • The logistics mission is to routine and emergency ordnance destruction, along with civil authority cooperation and NBC shipments
  • Finally, the intelligence mission is to provide technical intelligence on new or unusual ordnance

My takeaway is that leaders must know the role of the EOD and know when and how to utilize them.

# 2 The Emotional Effects of War on the Individual Soldier

Another interesting leadership lesson from this movie was the emotional effects of war on the individual Soldier.  SFC James, SGT Sanborn and SPC Elder all handled stress VERY differently.  SFC James simply had the “I don’t give a shit attitude.”  He was an adreneline junkie and he seemed thrive on high stress, even if he was reckless.  SGT Sanborn was pretty calm and balanced (for the most part) and liked to do everything by the book. SPC Elder really struggled with the loss of his Sergeant, and let stress get the best of him.

My takeaway is that every Soldier handles stress differently.  As leaders we must be able to help our Soldiers deal with their stress effectively, even if we need to refer them to the Chaplain, psychologist or a medical doctor.

# 3 The Importance of Following Protocol

There were several instances in this movie (many actually) that SFC James did not follow protocol.  A few things that come to mind is taking his EOD Team to chase the insurgents, after the fuel tanker explosion.  Rather than following orders and waiting for the infantry to do their job, he risked the lives of his team to chase the insurgents.

Another instance is when he took off all of his protective equipment to disarm a bomb.  In another instance, he left the base to track down the insurgents who killed his friend, Beckham.  There were many other instances in the movie where his ” do it my own way” mentality caused problems, and could have led to even bigger problems.

My take on this matter is that protocol is in place for a reason.  You don’t always have to like it, but you need to follow it. It’s there to protect you and to protect other Soldiers.

# 4 The Consequences of Being a Reckless Leader

If there is one thing that really stands out with me from this movie, it’s how reckless SFC James was throughout the movie.  He challenged authority, never followed the rules and seldom even considered the consequences of his actions.  It’s as if everything that he did was one big thrill ride.

This resulted in one of his Soldiers getting shot.  In many other cases, he put his own team in harms way when he didn’t need to!

My take on this lesson is that leaders have the responsibility to be responsible.  They must put their ego in check.  They must realize that there job is to get the mission done AND to bring back their Soldiers home safely.  Being reckless is stupid.  It can get people killed.

Facts and Information About the Movie

Here are a few fun facts and information about the movie:

  • Stars Jeremy Renner as Sergeant First Class William James, an Explosive Ordinance Disposal Specialist, along with his team Sergeant JT Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty)
  • The Hurt Locker was nominated for nine Academy Awards
  • It won Best Picture, Best Achievement in Writing, Best Writing for an Original Screenplay, Best Achievement in Film Editing, Best Achievement in Sound Mixing, and Best Achievement in Sound Editing
  • It only did about $14 million at the box office, make it the lowest grossing Best Picture movie ever made
  • The movie was released in 2008
  • The movie was filmed in Jordan
  • It was directed by Kathryn Bigelow, ex-wife of James Cameron
  • First film about the Iraq War to win an Academy Award
  • It’s 131 minutes long and is rated R

Story Line of the Movie

Sergeant First Class James takes over a highly trained EOD team in Iraq, leading two other Soldiers, SGT Sanborn and Specialist Eldridge.  This movie shows his (SFC James) reactions and attitudes towards combat and death.

My Favorite Scenes from the Movie

  • The sniper scene
  • All of the bomb disposal scenes
  • The fist fight in the barracks

What I Liked About the Movie

  • The action was intense and the acting was very good
  • It was a great suspense and thriller
  • The dialog and script was amazing
  • The story line was well thought out
  • It is a movie about one Soldiers’ character
  • It’s war from a Soldiers’ perspective
  • It focuses on the jobs of Soldiers in combat, not the political aspect of the war
  • The screenplay, special effects, sound, and cinematography were wonderful

What I Didn’t Like About the Movie

  • The Holly wood aspect made much of it very unrealistic
  • Lots of insubordination

Final Thoughts

In summary, Hurt Locker is a great war movie about an EOD team in Iraq.  It is very different from most other military movies because the entire movie is from a Soldier’s perspective of the war.  Overall, I give it an 8 of 10 and consider it a must watch.

What are your thoughts?  What lessons did you learn from the movie?  What are your thoughts about the movie?  Leave a comment below to let me know what you think.  I look forward to hearing from you.








chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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7 thoughts on “Hurt Locker: Movie Review and Lessons Learned”

  1. I have not watched the movie. The main reason was the many reviews stating that Hollywood made it so unbelievable.

    After reading your review, I believe I will go ahead and rent the movie. I could see where drill sergeants and other military leaders would not want soldiers watching movies such as this.

    I remember when we were in basic training and the Sgt stated very clearly before our first live hand grenade training, that the first soldier that thought they was John Wayne and pulled the pin with his teeth would have a grenade shoved up their (I’m sure you get the picture.)

    As soldiers, it must always be remembered that Hollywood is not the expert military adviser.

      1. Yes, and I did finally watch this movie.

        I do feel it did do much justice to what many soldiers have faced throughout the many conflicts all throughout the Middle East. I was a bit angry that Hollywood allowed such disregard for following orders and the depiction that many of these guys are “Lone Rangers.”

        The Explosive Ordinance Specialist is a team operation. None of these people could do their job properly without the rest of the team.

        In many ways, this was a great movie, and it did teach some great lessons, but it also went out of bounds in other areas. I hope that people who watch this do not assume this is how the military operates.

  2. Theresa Williams

    I thought The Hurt Locker was overall a good movie for many of the reasons you listed. When I saw it, I knew nothing about what they were doing, though, and so my picture of what an EOD did and how soldiers acted with their superiors, etc. was shaped by what I saw in the movie. Then I married my Army husband. I think the depictions of insubordination, violation of protocol, and general recklessness will or does the same thing for many people, giving many the wrong view of the military and another tainted view of war. Like you, however, I did enjoy that the movie was solely about what it’s like to be a soldier in combat and not about the politics of war.

  3. I’ve seen this movie once and thought it was quite good in terms of entertainment, but I agree that there was too much of a Hollywood influence. The best war movies (in my opinion) are the ones that are realistic, gritty, and accurate. Surely the directors and producers consulted with people who have military experience in the making of the movie, right? For the sake of accuracy, it would make a lot of sense to do their research beforehand. The way the EOD team operated, the way the skirmishes and gunfights were choreographed, not following protocol, soldiers’ recklessness, and so on make the film less believable. To the casual movie goer just seeking a thrill, this movie will do that, but someone who wants an accurate depiction of the Iraq War should look elsewhere!

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