Movies have shown us many different facets of war over the years: war as heroic act, war as gruesome ordeal, war as political maneuver. Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds (sic) shows us something quite different - war as a game. Eschewing gritty realism for his trademark verbal flourishes, Tarantino's characters criss-cross Nazi-occupied France in what feels like an epic game of cops and robbers. Good guys and bad guys alike swagger with a bravado and purpose, giving each other nicknames, infiltrating enemy lines, eluding escape, and plotting heists. The battlefield becomes a gigantic backyard in Tarantino's world, and, just like in Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs, it's a world where everyone is living out the movies that depict their lives; fantasy rolls back into reality. In fact, Inglourious Basterds is really more about movies than it is about war. It may not be realistic, but it sure is a lot of fun, and fun is something that has been missing from war movies ever since The Great Escape.
In The Hurt Locker, we see a different kind of game play out. In Iraq in 2004, SFC William James (Jeremy Renner) is the head of a bomb squad and uses each call as a game of Russian roulette. Playing fast and loose with safety procedures and protocol, James puts himself and his team at risk on a regular basis. In a world where everyone is a potential threat and every pile of rubble could be hiding a tripwire, Sgt. James not only gambles with his life, but has become an addict. It's not that he has nothing to live for - quite the contrary - but that he doesn't feel alive without the adrenaline rush that his job provides. James is indifferent to the stress he causes his by-the-books team, but he sees the world differently: defusing bombs is his stress release. Everything else makes him anxious.