So much has been written about this movie. Liked, loved, despised, disappointed. Earning Best Picture will do that. Bring on the critics!
I don't know really if it deserved Best Picture. I don't know how that is judged. I don't care either. After reading some blogs about what people thought about it, I wanted to give my take. That is from someone who actually served in the Marines.
What most people don't get (that is those who never served) is how different being in the military really is. From my perspective, it truly is like walking into Oz. It's a different world, not just lifestyle. It's like L O S T (for those of you who follow), having, or living in two different time parallels. You do what you have to to survive that world, even excel.
I can see someone watching this and thinking that the main character is nothing more than reckless, trying to be a hero, etc., and being put off by it. But what this really shows, is how this person decided to cope during his time in a war zone.
There are three main characters here, and each offer their own view on how they see their time serving their country. Jeremy Renner plays the gritty staff seargent who is God of gods when it comes to disarming bombs. Anthony Mackie plays the kingpin (not boss) of the group who sees it as his charge to keep everyone safe, and in line with protocol to be sure the job gets done right. Brian Geraghty plays the kid who is to help carry out those protocols that he learned and is directed by his superior.
The three of these guys comprise a team charged with handling disarmament of IED's that are suspected to be live. The dynamic here is that Renner's character is the new guy, replacing someone of great respect who was axed in the first scene of the movie (which really sets up the strife battled by Geraghty's character).
First, let me explain the logistics of any unit within the combat engaged armed services. First, everything you are ever taught is geared toward getting the job done efficiently, without error, and withing defined protocols. Whether that is to fix a truck, a meal, or whack a battalion of insurgents. Nothing is hap-hazard. Nothing is by the seat of the pants. That is of course, unless something terribly goes wrong. Then it's time to improvise, overcome, adapt.
You see that in in Renner's character several times. The dynamic is Mackie's character realizing that Renner, although very good at his job, makes it harder for Mackie to do his. Which is first and foremost to protect Renner. It's also shown that Mackie's concern about his new team members antics put all three at risk. Undo risk as Mackie sees it and he battles with himself on how to handle it.
Staff Sergeant William James:
He seems to go about his job with such confidence that it is almost defined as reckless. You get the feeling that it almost shows his apathy towards dying. I don't think that is the case at all. He is a hot shot, no doubt. But his willingness to die, as perceived by the way he approaches his job, is nothing more than a belief in his training and the abilities brought about by that training. He is there to do job. He has to be there. Dying is a risk associated with that job. He goes about it as efficiently as he can, all the while, abusing the privileges that serving during a time of war allows. Yes, protocol eases quite a bit during war time. His relationship with the little vendor boy shows me nothing more than the characters recognition that life is precious. A paradigm of sorts within his own character. His adamant attempt to keep that boy safe. To mourn him, to honor him. It's what little redemption he could muster and would do so at any cost to feel human once more. He did things knowing he was wrong at times, but never apologized, and accepted the consequences with great restraint, but never relenting. His confidence defined him, but showed that there was much more behind his expertise, and just being able to complete the job. He built his character through the knowledge of being at war and what that meant for himself, his peers, and his country.
Sanborn is the prototypical Soldier. A true professional. Showing a restrained fear, mostly based on his realization that he was short (little time left on this tour of Duty). He knew he'd be back, but survival is based on tours. Survive the first one. Then worry about the second. He knew any mistake could threaten that. His care for his team members. The respect he showed them, and the respect he demanded. He wasn't playing the reckless hero, nor was he there to win awards or earn money. He was there because he had to be. And by accepting that choice he made in life, he did it to the best of his abilities, through his training, and his overall contempt for the situation he was in. It's what drove him.
Specialist Owen Eldridge:
Eldridge is defined by his understanding of his job. Several times he is asked to make the decision. "Best decision man" was a line uttered by Sanborn when asked by Eldridge on what he should do concerning taking out an enemy. In the first scene he couldn't bring himself to taking out the enemy and it cost the life of his team member. His struggle to make that decision eats at him through obviously a personal test of morality and the training he has been provided to execute the job he is in. It tears at him throughout the whole film. You can relate to him and understand that his dilemma is probably representative of most of the young soldiers over there. He makes you want to reach out and help him. It's easy to want to pull the trigger for him from behind the screen but thinking about it, you also feel the moral challenge. Not so much as whether or not to kill the bad guy. The movie makes it easy for you to grasp the necessity in doing so, and it makes it easy for you to reconcile the fact that you must kill before being killed. The moral issue that Eldridge faces is pulling the trigger on the right guy. And right there defines his struggle. His training is complete and thorough. He knows his job and knows how to get it done. His personal moral demon is surety before pulling that trigger and ending the life of an innocent even before one of his own is put at risk. I get the feeling that he does all of this with the forethought of knowing that someday, he will be a civilian again, and will have to live with himself making those decisions forever. What's most dynamic about this guy is the fact that even after he was wrong to the extreme where it cost him a team member, he still shows restraint, whether it be from fear, or moral indecision, about still pulling that trigger correctly.
You watch this movie and gain the sense that things are done by each and every character that crosses the screen to perform their duties as they were charged to do without letting down their peers, their leaders, their team mates, and their country. They do this in their own way to the best of their abilities all the while with their own personal flare in order to cope and survive a world to which they were willingly thrown into. These are choices they made, and the movie depicts that thoroughly, without restraint, and without undue flair or entertainment. The film makers accomplish what they wanted. That is, being able to make you believe that you see in this movie is truly how it plays out every day, in real life, throughout our military.