It’s funny how the best film made about our current Iraq conflict has been directed by a woman. I mean this in a completely nondiscriminatory way. It honestly is a blessing that, from what I can gather, it took a female mentality to truly understand this war.
The Hurt Locker is the first masterpiece of 2009. Director Kathryn Bigelow, most famous for her über-entertaining, macho-surfer romp Point Break, has crafted an instant, contemporary, war-film classic. This is the Iraq War film for people who don’t like Iraq War films.
Baghdad. 2004. We’re focused on an elite Army bomb squad unit. Three guys, with huge balls. They get the call, go investigate the bomb, locate the bomb, and send the squad leader in to defuse it. The other two stay back, giving succinct directions, and looking out for snipers or human detonators watching from afar. Sure, they strap on giant suits meant to protect them from a bomb blast. But we soon learn that those suits, more often than not, prove to be fruitless.
The movie opens with an incredibly suspenseful, heart-pounding sequence. When the scene was over, I was hoping to catch my breath. But I didn’t. Not once. For two hours. This is a film that truly grabs you by the throat in its first scene, and does not, for a second, let go. Even in the soldiers’ downtime, there is still danger on the horizon, lurking in a wrestling match taken too far, or some lost gloves that provoke questionable thoughts.
The movie stars Jeremy Renner as the adrenaline junkie squad leader. He’s a bit of a thrill seeker, sure, but he’s the best at what he does. Plain and simple. Renner, a fine actor as is evident in North Country, 28 Weeks Later and the Assassination of Jesse James, delivers an Oscar-caliber performance. His Staff Sergeant James doesn’t have long monologues or depressing speeches. He, like the movie, lives in the moment of the job. From finding the bomb to dismantling it. It’s the best acting I’ve seen so far this year.
The rest of the three-man crew is made up of Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty. You may remember Geraghty as the skinny, scared soldier in Jarhead that Jake Gyllenhaal pulls a gun on. If you don’t remember him, then you will after this. Mackie has been delivering solid work since his breakout in 8 Mile as a challenging rapper. Since then, he’s contributed standout roles in She Hate Me, Million Dollar Baby, Half Nelson and Notorious, but he’s never been better than as the aggravated, by-the-book Sergeant Sanborn, the perfect match for Renner’s rugged, on-the-fly daredevil . Look for a Supporting Actor nomination. There is also a trio of terrific cameo appearances, they may be hard to spot, but I give those actors credit for lending their one respective scenes to such a small, indie film.
The Hurt Locker was written with brutal authenticity by journalist Mark Boal, who spent some time in Iraq with a bomb squad. The details have paid off. Boal’s script is unlike any other war film I’ve seen. There’s no throwaway, morale-boosting banter. No excessive meandering into tired plot details. Everything we need is right here, every scene is essential.
If I’ve done my job, then I’ve convinced you that this film is worth seeing. That it’s worth driving dozens of miles out of your way to an independent theatre for. I’ve done my job if you believe the fact that The Hurt Locker is best film I’ve seen so far this year.
Every war has a defining film (or two). For my money, Paths of Glory takes WWI, The Thin Red Line encapsulates WWII, The Deer Hunter is Vietnam, and Three Kings nails the Gulf War. Add The Hurt Locker to that list. Add it to another list as well, the shortlist for this year’s Oscar contenders. A+