Page last updated at 08:12 GMT, Friday, 28 August 2009 09:12 UK

Explosive drama of bomb squad experts

By Emma Jones
BBC entertainment news reporter

Scene from The Hurt Locker
The film's writer spent time embedded with a US army bomb squad

The Hurt Locker, directed by Kathryn Bigelow, is about a month in the life of three US bomb squad technicians working in Iraq.

Based on the real life observations of writer Mark Boal, these soldiers speak of explosions as putting you in "the hurt locker".

There have been a slew of comments from Hollywood about both the war in Iraq and the war on terror.

By and large though, films like In The Valley of Elah, Rendition, Redacted and Lions for Lambs have failed to translate to box office success.

By contrast, The Hurt Locker has already grossed more then $10m (£6m) in US cinemas since its release last month - and that is despite having no big stars among the cast, with the exception of cameos from Ralph Fiennes and Guy Pearce.

"I think there is a lack of politics, a lack of speeches in the movie," says Bigelow, when asked about why it has proved a hit with audiences.

Guy Pearce in The Hurt Locker
Guy Pearce (right) makes a cameo appearance

"But the main reason is that it's an action film. And also, speaking as a member of the general public, I had no idea what things like EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) stood for.

"Mark's reporting and screenplay opens a window for us onto that world."

Boal spent several weeks in 2004 embedded with a US army bomb squad, operating in one of the most dangerous areas of Baghdad.

He compares their skill to that of a surgeon - although it's their own life at risk rather than the patient's.

The Hurt Locker is the creative result of his time there - a fictional snapshot in the lives of three soldiers in Iraq.

The leader, Sergeant William James (played by Jeremy Renner) seems to have a reckless disregard for his own safety which appals his team members, Sanborn and Eldridge (Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty), who are counting the days until they can go home.

Sophisticated audiences

Every day brings a new bomb to dispose of - and a new threat to their lives and the lives of the civilians around them.

Despite the fact it's set in Iraq, the movie could resonate with UK audiences seeing a mounting death toll of their troops in Afghanistan - many of them killed by roadside bombs.

Or could they find it currently hits too close to home?

Kathryn Bigelow
Kathryn Bigelow wants people to see her film as entertainment, not politics

"I think British audiences are very sophisticated," says Boal.

"They can view it as a movie rather than a news report. The US viewers understood it was entertainment with substance, but it's certainly not a documentary.

"I'm hopeful it will connect with people. It's an eye-opening experience to watch," adds Bigelow. "That's what makes the piece so poignant and timely."

Shot on location in Jordan, the director - best known for the surfer thriller Pointbreak - combined her action-film skills with an experiential style to place the audience on the ground with the bomb squad.

The precision and skill required to diffuse an explosive device meant that even on set, the suspense could become unbearable.

Courage and heroism

"There was one scene where Jeremy (Renner) is lying on his stomach, about to pull out a daisy chain of bombs," she recalls.

"Even though I was looking at it on the monitor my heart was thumping. I felt so anxious for him, and yet he's in the street, 20 yards away from me, surrounded by a movie crew.

"The professionalism, courage and heroism of these real life people is indelible - and for me, it's inherently dramatic."

Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker
Jeremy Renner plays the fearless Sergeant William James

At its debut in 2008 at the Venice Film Festival, The Hurt Locker won four awards and was praised for "avoiding dry ideology" by the committee.

Bigelow and Boal hope audiences will put aside their political theories about the rights and wrongs of the conflict and watch it as a piece of entertainment.

"At the end of the day, what they do is a job," Boal says. "It's a profession that we've tried to bring across, even if it is one of the most dangerous professions you could ever undertake.

"Obviously, it brings with it a host of emotional and psychological issues but it is still a volunteer army. And by and large, these people are doing an incredible job."

The Hurt Locker is released in the UK on 28 August. There's more from Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal on E24 on the BBC News Channel, Saturday 28 August at 10:45 BST.

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