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The Hurt Locker

hurt_locker_ver3I was lucky enough to catch a peek at a new action movie releasing this week and no, it is not fucking Transformers.

An exhilarating action picture, The Hurt Locker, from director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal, follows an elite three man Army bomb squad unit amidst the chaos of Iraq.  Led by a new sergeant, William James (played by Jeremy Renner), the film follows fellow team members Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) as they adjust and react to their new sergeant’s dangerous methods of bomb defusing.

Bigelow provides a pure shot of adrenaline, through and through, with this movie.  There are scenes of absolute heart pumping suspense and action.  It’s an amazing movie with some standout performances, especially from its three leads as each character must come to view their work in three completely different lights.

The main view point is through Jeremy Renner’s character Staff Sergeant William James, an adrenaline junkie who’s never really living unless he’s almost dying.  It’s an incredibly intense, vivid performance illustrating war not as an experience or a type of moral duty, though it is that, but more as a drug that can’t be stopped.

“The rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug.”  This quote begins the movie and immediately puts the viewer into the headspace of the people who have this job.  The entire movie has a constant high wire adrenaline tension that the Renner’s character completely feeds off of.

Renner’s character is made to be almost unique within this desert landscape as his fellow soldiers have completely different views on their jobs.  While Renner is constantly looking to be put back into the field, Geraghty’s character is often unsure and is unable to handle the rigors of the job and the consequences that result.  Meanwhile, Mackie’s character is about the rules and regulations, only looking to survive to start his own life back home and with his duty beside Renner’s daredevil character is unsure if he’ll be able to make it back to do just that.  It’s the dichotomy of these three character set against the backdrop of the Iraq War that really makes this an interesting film in which these very real characters are pushed against the grain.

And that’s not to leave out what a great slam bang, tension fueled, adrenaline pumping action movie this is.  The movie never feels like an Iraq War movie or something along those lines but more as just a straight action movie with incredible set pieces.  The structure Bigelow builds and the tone that becomes set feels more like something out of a great action movie rather than a war movie.

It’s the incredible performances anchor this movie feeding into the intensity of the action in front of us.  Renner is almost scary as the intense leader of this squad with an almost death wish while Mackie and Geraghty provide ample support, almost seeming like fellow soldiers frightened by his drug fueled behavior.  But its not drugs, it’s the war itself.  There are also several cameos from Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes, David Morse, and Evangeline Lily giving quick, interesting performances.

The sequences of tense, bomb defusing are the real centerpieces of the show.  When Renner’s character lifts a wire to find himself surrounded by eight closely grouped together bombs, the audience literally gasps demonstrating Bigelow’s skill in immersing the viewer into the characters’ world.

Bigelow has inadvertently made a film about addiction and what that does to someone and the people around them.  The damaging effects are wide ranging hurting everyone in your circle and it’s the interesting use of the Iraq War as a backdrop that really makes it work.  It’s an incredibly unique film in that way.  There has been a flurry of Iraq War movies of varying degrees of success quality-wise but universally flopping at the box office.  One wonders if this film could fare better since the film has nothing to say about the Iraq War in itself but holds the characterization of the soldiers’ state of mind in higher regard.

This is certainly in the higher quality bracket of Iraq movies but this movie is never so much about that.  It doesn’t have a political stance or even tries to present any kind of political problem in the movie because it’s not about that.  This is a movie about people that are already there and nothing else.  While the film shows the mindset of the soldiers there and one can see the damaging effects of war, it’s more of a portrait of those who find themselves addicted to it and craving the danger, the violence, and the complete risk of death.

Bigelow has crafted not only a great suspense action picture but a movie that strips the Iraq War of all of the politics surrounding it and gets at the core damage being done in the mindsets of certain soldiers and the psychology that is being fed into it.  The constant risk and exposure to death is palpable and Renner’s character constantly seeks it.

The film does have some minor flaws but none that ever drag down the picture.  There is a central sniper scene in the middle of the movie that drags a bit and one that could have been pared down greatly without doing much damage.  While this is a central bonding point for our three leads, the latter part of the sequence drags down the pacing when the film really needs to be speeding up.

There are bits here and there where things tend to slow down what is already a rapidly paced suspense picture but never so much as to take away from the enjoyment of it.

From the first scene to the very last, there is an incredible, palpable sense of danger that is always on the cusp and it’s an incredible experience to sit through.  Bigelow, after the flop that was K-19: The Widowmaker, is back in a big way with this picture.  An incredibly fine-tuned action movie that is both gripping and intriguing, this is a movie that needs to be seen.  I beg of you, do not go see the two and half hour toy commercial that is Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and see a real, adult action movie this weekend.

The Hurt Locker opens in New York and Los Angeles this Friday and expands into select cities July 10 and as David Letterman always says, I hope to God your city has been selected.


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