What makes Bigelow’s film The Hurt Locker a masterpiece is its capacity to tell a gripping story. The film follows three members of a U.S. Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal team as they diffuse bombs in Baghdad during the present Iraq war. There is level-headed Sgt. J.T. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie), anxious rookie Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty), and their daredevil leader Staff Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner). The three characters are deeply complex and worlds apart in their countenance, yet must put aside differences in order to stay alive. Sure, they fight–and even contemplating killing each other–but deep down, there is a mutual desire for survival. Each actor gives a performance worthy of an Oscar nomination, especially Renner as the “wild man” James.
This isn’t your average war film, nor does it easily slip into the action genre. Yes, there are bombs exploding and bullets flying, but the tension is found in the lack of explosions and gunfights. Maybe the guy on the roof has a detonator; maybe he’s just a civilian casually watching. Maybe the sniper has left the valley hours ago; maybe he’s waiting for the next soldier to move before taking the shot. I’m convinced that there is more heart-racing suspense when the gun isn’t firing and the bomb hasn’t gone off. The tension comes when itmight happen. You don’t want the bombs to go off because you care for these characters. You want these men to survive. You want to see them return to their families, to live out their dreams, to be removed from the nightmare. Bigelow shot the film in Jordan, mere miles from the Iraq border, using many Iraqi refugees as extras and actors. Jeremy Renner comments that they were shot at multiple times while filming. The intensity feels real because it is real.
War is a drug. It’s an addiction that William James can’t seem to shake. He diffuses the bombs, narrowly cheats death, but still can’t seem to pull his own life together. He keeps pieces of all the explosives he’s diffused under his bed, like a shrine of his past triumphs to remind himself that he’s still alive. (Perhaps this is the source of the film’s enigmatic title? I have multiple theories for the title, from the protective suit the bomb diffuser wears to the James is such an intriguing character; you’re not quite sure what motivates his foolhardy approach to life, but he is in the business of fixing problems. Why can’t life be as easy as cutting a few wires? Why can’t the problems disappear with the click of a button or the pulling of a trigger? Jeremy Renner creates one of the most affecting characters I’ve seen in a war film since Jim Caviezel’s Private Witt in The Thin Red Line.
Bigelow has created one of the best war films I’ve seen in years. The story is fascinating, the characters are riveting, the action is intense, and the camera-work is some of the best I’ve seen this year. I’d likely include it on a future top war films list. If you have the opportunity–and strong nerves–go find The Hurt Locker in theaters. It’s perhaps one of the best films of 2009.
IMDB Listing: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0887912/