Kathryn Bigelow's movie is a nail biting masterpiece and Jeremy Renner turns in a star making performance
The Hurt Locker
7-29-09 "Knight Thoughts" web exclusive
By Richard Knight, Jr.
If any director in recent memory has had a more scattershot career in terms of the variable quality than Kathryn Bigelow I am hard
pressed to think of one. Bigelow, who has shown a distinct talent for violent sequences – beginning with the spectacular slaughter of
the bar patrons in the vampire flick Near Dark – has flitted from genre to genre and many of her films have contained great scenes
but other than Near Dark, none of them has really stuck in the mind. Or prepared one for the superbly controlled masterpiece of
tension that is The Hurt Locker. Bigelow, after a long haul, has found her métier and not surprisingly, it hinges on violence – in
this case, the violence, both real and psychologically devastating – of war.
The film, which follows an elite Army bomb squad through their rounds in tension filled Iraq, is also the first really great film
examination of the war as its happening. The movie also announces the arrival of a major talent in Jeremy Renner (who previously
played the gay serial killer in Dahmer and has a slew of interesting supporting roles) who gives a star making performance as Staff
Sergeant William Jones, the über confident new member of the group who takes the lead in removing and dismantling the vast array
of bombs the team encounters. With only 38 days to go on their deployment, his team co-members, Sanborn (Anthony Mackie who
played gay in Brother to Brother) and Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) are understandably pissed off and nervous when confronted with this
cocky upstart. They just want to do as little as possible and get home with their limbs intact.
But Jones will not be deterred and rushes headlong into danger time and again. Each day brings more potential danger and Bigelow
creates one tremendous apprehension and action filled scene after another. Utilizing handheld quick shots from the subjective point
of view while focusing on mundane, every day details – a group of boys at a window, a man on his cell phone, a door slammed shut,
some men idly standing on a nearby rooftop – Bigelow revs up the tension by showing the soldiers confronted by the endless array
of potential dangers of a terrorist driven war conducted in a large city. After each success Jones has a smoke – the job is like sex to
him – and cranks up his heavy metal music as Sanborn and Eldridge breathe a sigh of relief (along with the audience). He’s friendly
and receptive to the other soldiers but it slowly becomes clear that living in a war zone – especially with a mostly unseen enemy –
has psychologically affected him as much as the other soldiers. There is a token “getting drunk scene,” a staple of the combat
picture that momentarily eases the tension (this one has the same endearing one-upmanship as the one between Richard Dreyfus
and Robert Shaw in Jaws) but the respite is brief.
Bigelow, working from Mark Boal’s crackling script, lays out one great horrifying sequence after another – a nightmarish chase
through the city at night in search of a suicide bomber, another through an abandoned warehouse, a third with Jones disarming a car
bomb after it’s burned. The climax of the film involves an accidental encounter in the desert with a group of British soldiers (with
Ralph Fiennes in a cameo) and a standoff with terrorists. Renner, tightly focused one moment, eyes blazing, laughing and at ease
the next, gives us a fully fleshed out profile of a man who has learned to play his cards close to his vest and who finally can’t live
outside of the tension filled world of the bomb squad (a latter scene with Jones in a grocery store is particularly haunting).
Bigelow’s movie has the same driving, unbearable anxiety of the French film classic Wages of Fear (and its American remake,
Sorcerer) and with its portrait of Jones and the other men, a searing portrait of the profound psychological consequences of war on
the psyche. The Hurt Locker is a great, great film. Is it ironic or does it make perfect sense that a woman directed this?
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