Brian Geraghty, Guy Pearce,
Ralph Fiennes, David Morse
- Rated R
- Buy the DVD
All photos © Summit Entertainment
Reviewed by David Medsker
he Hurt Locker” is a war movie in the same sense that “Sideways” is a movie about wine, which is to say, it’s not. It uses the Iraq War as a backdrop to profile the life of a career soldier and extreme thrill junkie, but it is a character study first and war movie second. And, in a unique twist, it doesn’t victimize the soldiers the way other, lesser war movies love to do. “Home of the Brave,” we’re looking in your direction.
The movie begins in Baghdad with Bravo Company losing the leader of its bomb disposal unit a mere 39 days before their tour of duty ends. His replacement is Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner), a highly skilled but reckless soldier who routinely puts his fellow soldiers in harm’s way. His methods do not sit well with fellow Sergeant Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Eldridge (Brian Geraghty), but after James gets the group through a few iffy encounters involving bombs of the come-to-Jesus variety, the three learn to work together, albeit begrudgingly. However, a switch flips in James’ head when he sees a harmless Iraqi boy being used for nefarious purposes, and instead of welcoming trouble, he begins to actively seek it out.
Much will be made of the fact that it took a woman to make a good Iraq War movie, but let’s not turn this into a battle of the sexes. Kathryn Bigelow has held her own in the man’s man’s world of filmmaking for over two decades, and by making decidedly non-girly movies to boot (“Near Dark,” “Point Break,” “Strange Days”), so it is no surprise that she delivers the goods here. She does a great job mixing handheld camera shots with flashier set pieces (the opening scene, for example), giving the movie style along with an overwhelming sense of paranoia (is that man on the phone trying to detonate a bomb, or is he just on the phone?). Mark Boal’s script also does a great job of touching on both the banality of war – Eldridge and Sanborn joke of opening a business together while James hovers over a device that could kill him ten times over – and the lengths the soldiers will go in order to vent their frustrations without spilling their guts to the resident shrink (Christian Camargo).
The movie’s secret weapon, though, is its no-name cast. Some better-known actors take small parts, presumably to secure funding – don’t blink, or you’ll miss Evangeline Lilly – but the movie benefits from its lack of baggage in the lead roles. Renner is fascinating to watch; even when he’s putting himself at risk, or getting punched out by a fellow soldier, he maintains a Zen-like calm that stands in contrast to the adrenaline junkie lurking beneath. Mackie doesn’t have quite as much to work with, but his Sanborn is a good foil for James, the consummate soldier that’s also smart enough to see through James’ gonzo bluster. The rest of the cast takes a back seat, which is bad news for Geraghty’s Eldridge, but he does get the movie’s best line as a consolation prize.
The role of the soldier in film is often boiled down to something simplistic like the pawn, or the cog in the machine, or the traumatized innocent subjected to unspeakable horror. “The Hurt Locker” has no use for those people, instead giving us a man who gets as much out of his job as the military gets out of him. It’s dysfunctional, but strangely affirming.
Single-Disc DVD Review:
For a movie that's riding such a tremendous wave of Oscar buzz, the DVD release of "The Hurt Locker" is a bare-bones affair. Director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal contribute an audio commentary, and there is one 12-minute featurette on the making of the film. The last extra is an image gallery of shots from the movie, while a Q&A of Bigelow and Boal plays in the background.