Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker is intense to the point it is occasionally exhausting. Examining the lives of an elite Army Explosive Ordinance Disposal team in Baghdad, the viewer is immediately thrown into the action with an opening sequence forcing you to readjust the way you approach the rest of the film. Preconceptions about who will live and who will die are thrown out the window just as easily as clichÃ©s are a forgotten memory. All Bigelow leaves you with are the sweltering desert heat and enough explosives to wipe out a city block… and then some.
At the center of it all is Staff Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner) who steps in as team leader of a small bomb disposal counterforce, which includes Sergeant J.T. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty). Where things get interesting is in the style with which James works. Operating with a specific set of skills, combined with an aloof approach to bomb disposal causes plenty of concern for both Eldridge and Sanborn, adding additional tension to an already intense situation.
Jeremy Renner plays James with enough bravado, bravery and ego he is a character the audience will instantly fall in love with. He’s cocky to a fault when it comes to professionalism, but what he lacks in professional behavior he makes up for in expertise and experience. Audiences will find his swagger neutralizing and yet a casual approach to disarming a car bomb — while kicking open the trunk holding it — just as effectively ratchets up the tension. Of course, Bigelow’s control over the scenery doesn’t hurt either as she appears to have asked the most out of her cast and crew and they all delivered.
Using four handheld cameras and teaching a lesson in sound design, The Hurt Locker is an immersive experience placing you squarely into the action. Whether you are strapping on 80 pounds of protective gear in 100-degree heat before walking the 300 yards toward a pile of rubble concealing an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) or looking through a rifle scope at a group of snipers with their sights set on ending your life, this is an intense ride no matter how you frame it.
On top of the overall adrenaline rush The Hurt Locker delivers, what I appreciated most was the fact it never preached at the audience. So many war-based films nowadays feel the need to hammer home a message as opposed to letting the audience get what they need out of the film themselves. While each frame of The Hurt Locker is filled with sound, none of it is dedicated to unnecessary dialogue or exposition.
The tragedies of war are no secret and this movie brings plenty of them to the forefront, but at the same time it doesn’t treat you as if you are an idiot and can’t figure things out on your own. This is a testament to the director for her confidence in the audience, herself and her actors as they were able to do with actions what so many films fall back on with words. After all, when you are attempting to disarm a bomb or making sure your teammates head isn’t blown off while doing so, you hardly have time to reflect on what you are doing in that position. Bigelow allows for a few small moments of personal reflection, but she never relies on flashbacks or long speeches to tell the story.
What Bigelow does rely on more than anything else is the performance of Jeremy Renner who couldn’t have possibly known what he was in for when he signed on for this film, but I am sure the 38-year-old actor walked away knowing he had just taken part in something that should certainly benefit his career. I’m not sure how much potential there is for an Oscar nomination for his work, but I wouldn’t leave him out of the conversation just yet.
The only thing I could have done without is what felt like an out of the way scene involving the capture of one of the team members resulting in an injury. The scene seemed out of place and like it had been added in an attempt to increase the drama, which wasn’t necessary at that point, but it’s a minor quibble when we are talking about all that surrounds it.
So strap in with what is likely to be the best action film of the summer. It’s a dose of reality surrounded by unanticipated insanity. To predict the next move is damn near impossible and each cast member carries his own weight from start to finish. If you aren’t walking away from The Hurt Locker feeling like you have just survived the gauntlet I would be truly surprised. It’s affecting, exciting and altogether entertaining.