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  The Hurt Locker

Starring: Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty, Guy Pearce
Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow
Produced by: Greg Shapiro, Kathryn Bigelow, Mark Boal
Written by: Mark Boal
Distributor: Summit Entertainment

As seen at the 2009 SXSW Film Festival:

     Forcing the politics of the Iraq War to sit on the sideline, Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker could only be interpreted as a movie with an agenda if one construed the age-old “war is hell” theme as anti-war. The film is an exceptionally engaging dramatization of the day-to-day operations of the American military specialists who disarm bombs. In a conflict full of IEDs and homemade weapons, the characters engage in an extremely dangerous and demanding task, and The Hurt Locker goes to great lengths to detail the skill of its central trio. The leader of their squad is Staff Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner), who works brilliantly under pressure, sifting through the mechanics of and cutting cords on the bombs. Despite this, he seems to have a death wish given his reckless and often irresponsible defiance of protocol when he thinks there’s a better way to get the job done. Staff Sgt. James’ subordinates, Sgt. JT Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty), are more subdued and measured.

     The Hurt Locker is refreshing from the get-go in that it removes itself from all the propaganda and debate concerning the Iraq War and depicts American soldiers for the incredibly talented, conditioned men they are. Consisting of one superiorly crafted white-knuckle action sequence after another, the movie offers an appropriate assault on the senses, showing the full extent of the insanity of modern guerilla warfare. The viewer comes to understand that, in Iraq, any roadside object could be a bomb, and the fear the characters must overcome to do their jobs properly is enormous. The film’s depiction of actual combat in Iraq is also one-of-a-kind; so many films that seek to convince the audience of what it’s like to fight in Iraq don’t include a single scene of fighting. In this sense, The Hurt Locker provides the viewer a respect for the job the military does that supersedes that of any glib representation of patriotism. Whether the Iraq War was right or wrong to begin with is never considered, and the Bush Administration is never mentioned. These guys are there to do their job, and watching the process is heart-stopping and immersive.

     Beyond the film’s exceptional tech credits, which use little more than simple sound effects and claustrophobic camerawork to build tension, the acting in The Hurt Locker is what makes it so involving. In a performance that may be nominated for an Oscar, Jeremy Renner walks a tightrope in making Staff Sgt. James manic enough that he’s involving on a dramatic level, but never so over-the-top that he isn’t believable as a real soldier. I would imagine that a guy credited with disabling nearly 850 bombs would be just like this, minus James’ disregard for military regulation, which is mainly used as a device for screenwriter Mark Boal and director Bigelow to build suspense. At Renner’s side, Mackie and Geraghty are less frantic—after all, their characters aren’t the ones touching the bombs—but their work is just as compelling and authentic. Big names like Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes, and Evangeline Lily also appear and turn in fine performances, but their screen-time is limited.

     The Hurt Locker’s sole misstep is a sub-plot in its final act, where the story sacrifices realism for good drama in forcing Staff Sgt. James to sneak off the base to avenge a death. While gripping in a narrative sense, this passage reeks of phoniness and betrays the prior realism of the material, stopping the picture short of greatness. But for a largely respectable, edge-of-your-seat look at some of the American military’s most valuable, adept members, viewers will do no better than The Hurt Locker, not your average Iraq War movie by any means.

-Danny Baldwin, Bucket Reviews

Review Published on: 3.23.2009

Screened on: 3.17.2009 at the Paramount Theatre in Austin, TX.


The Hurt Locker is rated R and runs 127 minutes.

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