The Hurt Locker – Blue’s Beats #8

Blue’s Beats is a new blog series where we break down various nominated feature screenplays by identifying and discussing their important beats.


Today we’ll be taking a look at the 2008 American war drama The Hurt Locker, written by Mark Boal and directed by Katherine Bigelow. The film won multiple Academy Awards, including those for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay. 

To view a .pdf of the screenplay, click here


The film opens with a title card which reads, “The rush of battle is a potent and often lethal addiction, for war is a drug.” The Hurt Locker centers mostly on a single character’s slow, inevitable submission to the savage, all-consuming rush of warfare. As such, the plot points don’t really culminate in a traditional, event-driven story; rather, it’s all about creating an atmosphere of oppressive anxiety to which the characters are subjected. Some solders crack under the pressure while others seem to thrive in the high-tension environment, but the transition back to civilian life may prove to be even more psychologically taxing than the war.


(Pages 5-15) After the former leader of an American EOD unit stationed in Iraq is killed by an IED, Sergeant First Class William James arrives on the scene as the new team leader. Tensions instantly mount when James’s callous, reckless, and irresponsible attitude conflicts with the more cautious sensibilities of his squad mates.


(Pages 55-65) While en route to their base, the EOD squad runs upon a group of British mercenaries in possession of two Iraqi prisoners, both of whom have prices on their heads. Suddenly, the entire group is ambushed by hidden insurgents and a number of the mercenaries are killed. After an intense and psychologically draining firefight, the EOD squad manages to fight off the attackers.


(Pages 80-85) When the team raid a warehouse which they suspect to be a base of operations for a terrorist group, James discovers the virtually unidentifiable body of a young boy which has be surgically implanted with an explosive device. After another explosion during an evacuation of the base, James, seeking revenge, breaks into the house of an Iraqi professor, but quickly leaves when the search reveals nothing.


(Pages 95-101) The squad is called out to investigate the detonation of an oil taker, and James believes that the perpetrators are still in the immediate area. James, despite the reluctance of his squad mates, decides to search for the insurgents. When the team splits up, one of the members is captured, necessitating a quick and daring rescue by the others. James and co. manage to pull it off, but the soldier in question is accidentally shot in the leg in the process. Before being airlifted to a hospital, the soldier blames James for his injury.


(Pages 105-112) In a climactic encounter that can only be described as “harrowing,” the squad is called out on a mission during the final two days of their tour. An innocent man has been locked in an explosive harness and abandoned in the middle of a town square. James attempts to break the locks with a bolt-cutting device, but there are too many to undo before the explosives detonate. Forced to retreat for the sake of his own safety, James watches as the man is killed in the explosion. A soldier in the EOD squad is scarred by the spectacle, confessing to James that he can no longer cope with the pressure.


(Pages 112-119) The squad’s rotation ends shortly afterwards, and James returns home in the States to his wife and infant son. All is not well, however, as the dull, comparatively unfulfilling life of a civilian proves to be disagreeable to James, who seems to have become literally addicted to the adrenaline rush that accompanies warfare—the thrill of the hunt, as it were. The film ends as we fade in on James beginning another 365-day tour with another EOD team.