THE HURT LOCKER
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
War is a drug. So says a quote which scrolls before Kathryn Bigelow's latest film, The Hurt Locker. For just over two hours, the film will go on to explain that statement in grave, sometimes dangerous detail. The adrenaline of battle is just like any other kind of adrenaline, and even in matters of life and death, excitement is enough to keep you going. Day after day, people in war put themselves into possibly deadly situations, and what the film explores is how so many can do it without blinking, and how they become that way.
The film is centered on Bravo Company, a bomb squad unit which uses all sorts of technologies to diffuse complex bombs in the middle of the Iraq war. The war, as so many seem to forget, is fought on the streets of cities, and every mission is a possible dead zone. Each assignment is meticulous and time-consuming, and each brings an audience of at least a dozen Iraqi citizens wanting to peep on the show. The best in the business is Staff Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner), and he works quickly, efficiently, and sometimes recklessly.
James' two partners in Bravo company are the intelligent, but fearful Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Gerahgty) and the disciplined Sgt. JT Sanbourn (Anthony Mackie). Sanbourn and Eldridge know the dangers of their work, after seeing their former team leader (Guy Pearce in a small, but effective role) die when a bomb explodes in his face. Neither of them approve of their new team leader and his daredevil tactics, but both are left speechless as they watch James execute his assignments perfectly.
You see, just because James works rather hastily, it doesn't mean that he doesn't take his job seriously. He knows that what he does is dangerous, and whether or not he wears the appropriate protective gear or follows the appropriate disciplinary code, it doesn't make the situation any safer, so he rather do it his own way. The trio has only 38 days left before their tour is over, and the story unfolds as they continue to encounter numerous dangers, attackers, and elaborate explosives.
Bigelow's Locker is not so much a war film, as it is a character study wrapped in tension and explosions--both actual and psychological. The film is intentionally-paced, though never drags. Many scenes embrace stillness and silence effectively, and the movie as a whole perfectly showcases how extraterrestrial American troupes are in this strange, faraway land. Many films have explored how war has disparaged the lives of young soldiers, but few have shown how soldiers use the excitement of battle to get off, and Locker explores it better than any film I've ever seen.
No other woman has succeeded in the action film genre the way Kathryn Bigelow has. Her films Near Dark and Point Break have developed strong cult followings over the last couple of decades, but it has been quite a while since she's been as relevant as she is now. Locker premiered on the festival circuit in the fall of last year, but distribution problems pushed the film's release all the way till now. It has emerged slowly, and is now within wide release across the country. It is easily the best film about our current War on Terror, as well as the best film of 2009 so far, and though audiences haven't been large, the word of mouth is growing.
I can't remember seeing Jeremy Renner in any film (though IMDb says I must have seen him in North Country and The Assassination of Jesse James), but his performance within this film is beyond exceptional. This is a character who makes seemingly radical decisions, because he doesn't have the time to spend thinking, but still has the qualities to be efficient and successful. He's good at his job because he enjoys it, and Renner exhibits James' addiction to thrill perfectly. As James' main antagonist on the field, Anthony Mackie is the perfect foil for Renner, giving the film a much-needed sensible head.
In a time where most action films contain mindless dialogue, and cars turning into robots (or vice-versa), The Hurt Locker is an action film which dares to be intelligent and authentic. The film is written by former Army man Mark Boal, who also was behind the other Iraq-based film In The Valley of Elah. His dialogue seems incredibly natural and sincere, and combined with Bigelow's excellent use of hand-held, grimy photography, the audience is braced for an unidealized view of the horrific, and sometimes exciting hell of war.