And you thought your job sucked. Telling the story of an explosive ordinance disposal unit stationed in Iraq in 2004, Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker” is a tense, nerve-wracking, exciting action/drama that keeps you riveted to the screen.
As the story begins, two unit members are dealing with the loss of their team leader. The new leader, Sergeant First Class William James arrives and doesn’t always do things by the book. The two other men in the unit are charged with taking care of James, (providing cover and assistance,) as he examines the IED they were called out to disarm. On their first mission, James approaches the bomb without waiting for back-up to arrive. James’ teammates, Sergeant J.T. Sanborn and Specialist Owen Eldridge are not fans of his work, considering him reckless as they simply try to count down the days until they get home. For James, disarming bombs is almost a calling for him, one of those things that he knows how good he is which, could prove deadly for his teammates.
All throughout “Hurt Locker,” Bigelow gives us the tension and suspense that you would expect from a movie that is about bomb experts, but she also gives us a great look into the psyche of these characters. Writer Mark Boal was embedded with a bomb disposal unit during the war in Iraq and the things that make “Hurt Locker” so amazing are the parts of the story that are too crazy to be made up. All the characters are based on real people, with James based on a composite of several people. Boal has said that his goal in writing the movie was to give audiences a look at what the soldiers go through. Mission accomplished.
The acting is also top notch, across the boards. Jeremy Renner is a standout as James and this movie is almost a coming out party for him; you can see that he’s going to be headed for much bigger things after this movie comes out. James’ two teammates are played by Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty, who are also both excellent and don’t let Renner’s scene stealing character walk away with whole sequences intact. The three are a tight-knit ensemble, and the fact that they are relatively unknown only adds to the tension. It feels like everyone is facing danger. There are also a few known actors who pop up, Guy Pierce, Ralph Finnes and David Morse, but all three are not in awe of them and while there is respect, there is no ceding of ground to this trio of actors.
And finally there is the assured hand of Bigelow. Working with cinematography Barry Ackroyd, she has a movie that feels like an action film, but quickly tips it’s hand to be a taught look into the lives and minds of these characters. To be honest, I wasn’t a huge fan of Bigelow’s movies, but “Hurt Locker,” is head and shoulders above the others, focusing on the right things and presenting them in a way that you can’t look away from. Bigelow handles each of the major bomb-disarmament scenes differently, so you never roll your eyes and think, ‘I’ve seen this before…’ While there are definitely great shots and sequences that show a careful and planned coordination, you never feel like Bigelow or Ackrod are showing off. They’re presenting the story in as unadorned a way as they can.
This combination of skilled writing, directing, acting and shooting add up to create one of the best movies of the year. “The Hurt Locker” sucks you in first with action, but leaves you a bundle of nerves as you anxiously wait to see what happens next. Highly recommended. -Sam