It's hard to write a movie review about a movie about a bomb squad without including any spoilers, but I promise I will try to do my best. If you wish to avoid any chance of them altogether, I'll just say that The Hurt Locker is the best movie I've seen all year, a great, suspenseful, entertaining, intelligent war and action picture, and an all-around perfect film, and you can bail out here.
The film tells the story of an EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) unit in Iraq, and follows them through several missions until the last several weeks of their deployment end. Though they are a specialized unit which defuses and destroys bombs of all shapes and sizes, as the main character, Sgt. Will James (Jeremy Renner, exceptional) puts it, "This is combat," so what might seem routine, if extremely dangerous, often isn't routine in any sense of the word.
James leads a unit comprised primarily of himself and two assistants, Sgt. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Spec. Edridge (Brian Geraghty), with different levels of support for each mission. Sanborn and Eldridge are experienced in their supporting positions, and have also faced casualties and danger before, but even they are surprised by James's gung ho, go-it-alone attitude, and not sure they like it at first, or at last. In between they find some common ground and a grudging respect for his abilities, focus and leadership.
There's an everyman quality about James, which is spooky. We know just enough about him to know he takes great personal risks at great cost, and is on an incredible winning streak, but always with the chance of the tiniest error in judgment or movement capable of sending him off to his final reward. Just like any soldier in combat. He walls himself off from thinking about the what-ifs in such a successful way that the audience, not to mention his fellow soldiers in the film, question his sanity, but it's hard to argue with the results, a fascinating and illuminating Catch-22 of military leadership, to be sure.
There are several indelible images in the film, mostly of death. A few are images of death by bomb, unsurprisingly, though they are surprising and unique in context. A couple are of images of death by distant gunfire, realistically muted and final. And one gets inside the "war is hell" idea quite literally, without being contrived or heavy-handed.
The supporting cast is stellar, and, yes, the supporting cast. Guy Pearce plays a sergeant with the same job as James, David Morse plays a higher officer with compliments for James, and Ralph Fiennes plays a Brit in-country to capture the kinds of criminals who make the "most wanted" deck of playing cards. All are quite good, but they have minor roles.
The major roles are for Renner, Mackie and Geraghty, who briefly portray a military unit working in harmony, and mostly play a military unit just holding together. These three actors are outstanding, subtle and great with great roles.
Still, there's no question that Renner is the star. He holds the screen with a tough but playful nonchalance that is amusing at times and chilling at others. He seems to understand James inside and out, and that this is a wonderful part. He never overplays or gets sidetracked. He delivers the goods with a complex and unsettling character.
The Hurt Locker is funny, tense, terse and exciting without ever losing a sense of authenticity and a hard-nosed wisdom about war and combat. It works, exactingly, on the visual, intellectual and visceral levels in a way few war films have. You'll be impressed, and you'll want to see it again. It's about the Iraq War, and faithful in the telling; in a larger sense, it's about war, and more.
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