Kathryn Bigelow knows how to make an action movie. She knows how to get the blood pumping, and how to generate nail-biting suspense. Her latest effort is laced with more testosterone than any recent action film. You may recall, she was responsible for the gloriously over-the-top cops and surfers thriller Point Break. Whatever anyone says, that movie was extremely well crafted even if it lacked an intelligent plot. The Hurt Locker, however, is both well crafted and intelligent. This is, hands down, the best film to portray the war in Iraq so far. It isn’t concerned with politics. The soldiers in this film do not sit around discussing U.S. foreign policy. The fear of death looming over them every day is a much more immediate distraction.
Jeremy Renner really deserves all the attention he is going to get for this role. He has always been a reliable actor and you’ll probably recognize him as one of those guys that does a great job even in a bad movie. He really gets a chance to shine as Staff Sergeant James, who is a replacement team leader for a small bomb unit in Iraq. Their job is simply to find and neutralize bombs that pose a threat to the U.S. troops. Many times it seems like a safer tactic to blow the bomb up from a safe distance but Sergeant James wouldn’t dare do that. He likes to get up close and personal — so much so it that it seems it has become an obsessive compulsion for him to diffuse any and every bomb he comes across, regardless of the consequences. This wreaks havoc on the nerves of his team members played by Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty. They both recognize that he is a little too fond of bomb dismantling to last very long in his profession (their last team leader was far more cautious, and was killed in the line of duty.) Sergeant James has one quality that keeps his team members from killing him themselves. He is inhumanly good at his job. He has dismantled over 800 bombs, and there is not a combat situation that he doesn’t know how to maneuver.
As I mentioned before, Bigelow has made one hell of a war film with The Hurt Locker. The violence is real and horrifying. The characters are all believable. There are at least three or four sequences that are among the most suspenseful and visceral since Saving Private Ryan. The best set piece in the movie takes place when James and his team square off with a sniper hundreds of yards away. The situation is perfectly realized by Bigelow, and the technical detail that is put into this scene is extremely impressive.
Renner will most likely get an Oscar nomination for the work he does here and deservedly so. He is also supported by a great cast. Anthony Mackie exudes intelligence and toughness in equal measures. Brian Geraghty plays it straight. He’s the guy that seems to have the most human feelings of the three. His character reminds the viewer how traumatizing some of these events can be on normal human beings. There are three major cameos in the film that are all a pleasure to watch. To avoid spoilers, I’ll just say that Guy Pearce, David Morse, and Ralph Fiennes can do amazing things with even the smallest roles.
This is a hard, lean, and intense film. It’s a shame it didn’t get a wide release right off the bat. Once audiences hear about this one, I hope they have the good sense to check it out. It’s the kind of film that has the power to remind people that thrillers are supposed to thrill. The Hurt Locker will knock your socks off.