As we learned with “Avatar,” hype can be a dangerous thing for a film. Sure, it will get you interested, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse, but more often than not hype sets expectations so high that no film, no matter how good, can really live up to them.
This is not one of those times.
“The Hurt Locker,” directed by Kathryn Bigelow, fully lived up to expectations. The acting, writing, directing, editing were all spectacular, and I almost feel like I’m running out of adjectives to express how pleased I was that the Best Picture winner really, really was that good (and it makes me extra happy that this little film beat the crappy behemoth).
“The Hurt Locker” manages to be a film about the Iraq War without preaching about the war; it’s about three soldiers, Sgt. 1st Class William James (Jeremy Renner), Sgt. JT Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Spc. Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty), who day-in and day-out diffuse and dispose of bombs. James comes in after their previous team leader, Staff Sgt. Matt Thompson (Guy Pearce) dies in an explosion, and immediately, James clashes with his more cautious teammates.
It’s understandable. James joins their team on Day 327. Sanborn and Eldridge have 38 days left until they can go home; for 327 days, they’ve walked away from their mission more-or-less intact. Every day for them is life and death, and they don’t want to die.
James joins their team, but he’s never really a part of the team. He’s a badass bomb tech, and he’s so consumed with the adrenaline rush of his job the he sees no need for safety (if you get the job done, how you do it doesn’t matter, right?). James is not quite a bad guy, and Renner deftly walks the line between damaged and asshole because James is both; this war has severely messed him up, so much so that he can’t deal with real life, his wife (Evangeline Lilly) and son.
Mackie and Geraghty are no slouches either; Mackie continually shows his character’s aggressive frustration with a man who will likely destroy the team, through death and destruction or loss of moral focus. Geraghty has somewhat of a trickier role as young soldier who doesn’t want to die, but also finds comfort in James’ badass faade (and who pays a price for his loyalty).
The film has a good grasp on the characters, but it’s also an action film, and Bigelow knows how to shoot an action scene, from buildup to release. One of the marvels of the film is like a real-life bomb squad, the tension never leaves the screen. War is 24/7 job, and there is always another bomb (or sniper). Somewhere, there’s the wire they could miss, the hidden trigger, the countdown they don’t know about. The pace never lets up, and we get to feel what soldiers in wartime, in any unit, go through in these days of modern warfare.
I could probably keep going with my fan-girl praises, but I would like to keep a bit of my dignity in check; “The Hurt Locker” is relentlessly gripping, moving and a haunting piece of filmmaking, and I highly recommend it.
“The Hurt Locker” (2009)
Written by Mark Boal
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Starring: Jeremy Renner (Sgt. 1st Class William James)
Anthony Mackie (Sgt. JT Sanborn)
Brian Geraghty (Spc. Owen Eldridge)