What makes the Hurt Locker one of the most magnificent war films made recently? Perhaps it's because it's directed by a woman…a friend said to me that only a woman could've brought out the nuances shown so powerfully in this film.
Directed by Katherine Bigelow (Mission Zero, Point Break,) a rare non-chick-movie woman director, whose previous efforts don’t even hint at the intensity and acting power she's brought out in this film, it is set in Iraq in 2004…before you decide it's yet another gung ho propaganda-effort-masked-as-movie, read on.
The opening scene of this movie (it starts abruptly without credits, or, for that matter, any real "opening" trope,) shows the efforts of the Delta Company bomb squad to defuse a roadside bomb in Iraq. Tense from the start, it stays that way relentlessly though most of its 130 minute running time. There's a sameness, almost ordinariness about it; except it's the sameess of war, with its attendant tension, horror and imminent death. The bomb squad is led by Sergeant Sanborn (Anthony Mackie), Specialist Eldridge (Brian Geraghty); when their defusing expert is killed in the opening sequence, he's replaced by maverick William James (Jeremy Renner in a bravura performance,) who's not exactly a by-the-rule type of guy, but who has defused 873 bombs (give or take a few;) he also seems to having a wonderful time while being barely in control. The classic male wartime ego conflict…rule-breaker vs. the chief who cannot control him. And Eldridge is a nervous never-quite-there-for-you personality who you sense is a disaster waiting to happen.
Except, not quite. The devil is in the details, and the details are superb. James tossing off his bomb suit because it would make no difference at that point, he's dead if the bomb explodes and he'd rather be comfortable; fearless James ignoring Sanborne's pleas to pull out as he desperately searches for the bomb trigger in a partially burned car; James (he does get all the good scenes,) finding the body of the boy he tried to befriend days after his last contact with hum (and why is that body so obviously staged in an abandoned warehouse?); the semi-obligatory punch-fest between James and Sandborne, with an awesome funny ending…all perfectly staged.
How you feel about this movie depends on how much you can take its intensity, its brutality, its relentless downbeat-ness…as just a movie…in which case it is an absolute must-see, a rare combination of acting, directing and writing (by Mark Boal, from real-life experiences) perfection. Regard it as a commentary on the horror of war, its mindless destruction, its visceral danger, its soldiers retching at the sight of a bloody body, its dissonance between an occupying force's necessary hair trigger paranoia and the routine-ness of kids watching the scene waiting for another explosive (in all senses of the term) denouement, and it is to weep; and yet to laugh in relief from time to time. Black humor was never so edgy.
No clichés here, thankfully, or at least not any that are remarkable. A late scene between James and his wife (a small but pleasant cameo role for beauteous Evangeline Lilly, Kate of Lost,) is heartbreaking in its banality; them shopping in the typically over-choiced suburban supermarket, her pointedly ignoring his tentative comment about the scariness of his job…what could she say? and yet why say nothing?...but it underscores his loneliness and his total commitment to the job.
The excellent cinematography (filmed on location in Jordan) by Barry Ackroyd and the spare and effective music by Marco Beltrami add immeasurably to the experience.
Playing at the Beekman in Manhattan