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Review: The Hurt Locker by DrChocolate


DrChocolate sees the movies I can’t afford to see in theaters and reviews them, so this site can stay more up-to-date.

Like a bomb itself, The Hurt Locker arrives innocuously enough, but quickly reveals itself as tightly packaged bit of celluloid that seems primed to explode at the slightest touch. It is easily the most exciting movie of the year; and one of the tensest movies I’ve come across. Locker’s savvy white-knuckle vigor is derived from its raw, nervy performances and jittery construction. In my limited opinion it’s in a dead heat with Where the Wild Things Are for movie of the year.

The set-up is simple: A three-man EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) team is stationed in Iraq in 2004. They defuse bombs. The End. New team leader SSgt. James (Jeremy Renner) is an apparent adrenaline junkie who loves putting himself in harms way. Teammate Sgt. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) is highly suspicious of his apparent recklessness and James makes the already skittish Spc. Eldrigde (Brian Geraghty) even more unnerved. This tense team dynamic is only complicated by their fast approaching discharge date. Sanborn and Eldridge want to go home in one piece and to them James’ unbuckled antics seriously hamper that special goal.

Don’t be turned off by the idea that this is an “Iraq War Movie.” All the didactic moralizing and heavy handed sermonizing from Hollywood about naughty US politics and other such drivel is thankfully absent. If you see any politics, they are solely the ones you bring with you. Refreshingly, it is solely concerned with the three team members and their experiences. In turn the trio of actors are excellent; Renner in particular. In a brilliantly understated performance Renner lets all his conflict boil in his eyes and posture but it rarely surfaces in actions or words; but when it does it is to lasting effect. This calm, cocksure star making turn is arresting and should receive plenty of justified attention come awards season. Anthony Mackie, who has always been wonderfully reliable in his supporting turns, conjures his best performance to date as the pragmatic Sanborn. His older brother chemistry with an equally excellent Geraghty (who was memorable as Fergus in Jarhead) is a huge boon to the films (palpitating) heart.

Director Kathryn Bigelow, who’s always dealt so well with men, manliness, and male egos and emotions, finally delivers the “great movie” her talent has always promised. (That’s not a knock on her because Point Break and Near Dark are rather spectacular in their own goofy way, but this is the step up in quality she has always been capable of delivering.) In kind, how this movie subtly examines the addiction to adrenaline, and plumbs the depths of male familial needs, and the pitfalls of male bravado makes it a home run. Her muscular direction combines with a ragged, jittery camerawork to give the movie a ripped-from-the-battlefield documentary style that serves the action well. Using this style to her advantage, Bigelow ratchets up the tension to sweaty, anxious levels; it’s exhilarating and exhausting watching this movie. Every man, woman, child, phone, goat is viewed suspiciously as a trigger or carrier. Bigelow’s superior sense of action and understanding of men just gives you the feeling she could pimp slap Michael Bay into the third grade and scare Brett Ratner and McG into diapers with a glare. In the best way possible, she’s one of the manliest directors in Hollywood.

All together this isn’t a war movie, in the classical sense. The war is ancillary to the events of the film; the focus is so tight on the three soldiers that the conflcit falls away from the spotlight. Politics are absent, big brass plays no roles, major troop movements aren’t discussed. This must be how it feels to be part of an EOD team, a part of the action but isolated from it, a part of the force but secondary to it. Screenwriter Mark Boal wrote the script based on his experiences as an embedded journalist with an EOD team.

This is a “do not miss” in my opinion. Renner is superb, the direction is top-notch, and the action is the definition of “edge of your seat,” I actually felt my muscles tense and my breath shorten in certain scenes. It’s exhilarating, entertaining, and conversation starting. In short, it’s everything a good movie should be. Watch it.