- The Washington Times - Friday, July 10, 2009

Jeremy Renner, who plays the leading role in a film about an Army unit dedicated to disarming handmade bombs made by terrorist insurgents in Iraq, didn’t know much about improvised explosive devices before he read the script for “The Hurt Locker.”

“I was in the dark,” he tells The Washington Times in a downtown Washington office just a few blocks from the U.S. Navy Memorial, which hosted a Thursday screening of the film. “And I don’t feel like I was alone in that, either.”

Unlike other Iraq war films, “The Hurt Locker” has received near-unanimous critical praise — from Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone and the New York Times to a smattering of conservative blogs. Eschewing the politicized focus on the motives behind the conflict shared by many of those other films, “The Hurt Locker” tells the story of the troops through the story of the Army’s elite Explosive Ordnance Disposal Squad, a group dedicated to disarming the primitive bombs responsible for nearly half of the hostile fatalities of American soldiers.

“It doesn’t force feed the audience to think or feel anything,” Mr. Renner says, describing the film as more of a character study of the soldiers who sign up to join the all-volunteer unit.

“I’m still trying to figure it out, too,” he says. “The reasons are complex. You’ll come to your own conclusion, and you’ll be right.”

To prepare for the film, Mr. Renner visited military bases, which felt almost like foreign lands to him, a native Californian. He felt they were “sterile” and “weird” at first, unfamiliar as he was with their regimented schedules and spartan lifestyle.

They filmed in Jordan, just miles from the Iraq border, where Mr. Renner says he claimed he was a Canadian because he was scared of being an American inside the war zone. Even in his hotel, security forces and protective barriers surrounded the actors and film crew, an unsettling facet of moviemaking, although he says the Jordanians treated them very well.

He says making the film changed him, opening his eyes to the sacrifices U.S. soldiers are making, especially the ones to whom he spoke for the film who work on the EOD team.

“Bomb strikes can happen anywhere at anytime,” he says, a factor he thinks contributes to the film’s, and the war’s, overall sense of tension. “Anything can be made into a bomb.”

Mr. Renner recalls inviting some troops to his home in California for some beer and barbecue and asking a soldier to sit down in a chair. The soldier declined because the chair was located with its back toward a door. “That tells you something,” Mr. Renner says.

The war is “a place where you should be scared of everything, even though those guys aren’t,” he says.

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