Rating: 3½ stars (out of 4)
The Hurt Locker (2009): Dir. Kathryn Bigelow. Written by Mark Boal. Starring: Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty, Guy Pearce, and Ralph Fiennes. Rated R for war violence and language. Running time: 131 minutes.
Oscar reporters had their work cut out for them in 2010, as ex-spouses James Cameron and Kathryn Bigelow competed for the top prize (ironically, Cameron had turned Bigelow on to the project). But Bigelow’s Iraq-set drama proved much more topical than Cameron’s blue-alien wonderland, despite the enormous box office disparity. In fact, Hurt Locker may be the only good feature film yet made about the Iraq War.
The film offers a ground-eye view of combat operations, specifically a bomb-diffusing squad in Baghdad. The team, led by Sergeant Will James, tackle multiple missions to diffuse IEDs (improvised explosive devices). James approaches his work with swagger, but the stakes keep getting higher, and eventually personal.
Bigelow approaches the material with a clinical, documentary-style eye, allowing a sense of realism seldom seen in war films. Grit and sand invest every frame, and there’s a sense of voyeurism to the handheld camerawork. Mark Boal’s dialogue shows nuance that comes from his years within military outfits, even if it occasionally strains the authenticity of Bigelow’s vision. And the suspense in bomb diffusing scenes nearly registers off the charts—every person could be a potential detonator or sniper.
What’s more, Bigelow chooses to reveal character directly through the action (she may be one of the best at it). We have an immensely likable crew to follow on increasingly harrowing adventures. Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty provide key scenes of emotional import, but it’s Jeremy Renner who really earns his Oscar nomination. He reminds me of George C. Scott’s Patton with his contradictory devotion toward his men and bull-headedness toward his mission.
The Hurt Locker feels like 1986’s Platoon done right, mostly eliding the bludgeoning symbolism of that film and sticking to a small enough scale. The seemingly aimless plot keeps it from achieving greatness, but this is a film about chaos, not logic.
Next film: The King’s Speech, 2010