The Hurt Locker Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow Cast: Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty Running Time: 2 hrs 11 mins Rating: R Release Date: July 10, 2009
Plot: When a top-notch Army bomb squad lose their beloved team leader, they are dealt a wild card in Staff Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner). With the deceptive Iraqi terrain as a gruelingly harsh backdrop, we are witness to the nerve-inducing drama that unfolds when even elite soldiers are in over their heads. An inner struggle for leverage rages throughout a film that questions the theory of teamwork when lives are always on the line.
Who’s It For? Those of you who enjoyed the thematics touched upon in Jarhead but felt slighted by the film’s execution will almost certainly appreciate the cold-blooded sentiment touched upon throughout The Hurt Locker. By personalizing the message of unity (or lack thereof), this is an art film disguised as a shoot-em-up. Recently discharged soldiers may want to wait on seeing this. I couldn’t imagine it helping them deal with the demons of war any better than the actual experience already has.
Expectations: As highly touted as Jarhead was before it hit theaters, there was always something amiss throughout the film itself. Where that film lacked paunch, relying almost solely on shock-value and over-acting, this film will certainly reaffirm the power of an intoxicating mixture of war, and film.
Jeremy Renner as Staff Sergeant William James: Renner’s recognizable face isn’t the only reason you question why you haven’t seen more of him until now. This isn’t so much a career-making role as it is an affirmation of skill, on-screen poise, and terrific rendering of a blemished character. ‘James’ doesn’t wear a scarlet letter of “hurt” on his sleeve, but his maverick methods of bomb-diffusion, and coyly delivered one-liners leads to much speculation regarding his back-story. Can a war-hardened “red neck” be concealing a heart bigger than in those who question his shoot-from-the-hip mentality? This is an acting performance within an acting performance. A carefully layered Petri dish of microscopic imperfections upon the seemingly rigid skin of a young man who fears the reality at home (a wife and young son) more than the potential of death in combat. Score: 9
Anthony Mackie as Sergeant J.T. Sanborn: Sanborn is a by-the-book believer in safety first, and protect your neighbor. A true team player, his sadness for a fallen comrade (Guy Pierce as Sergeant Matt Thompson) subsides quickly when newly appointed squad-leader ‘James’ enters the picture. Taken aback by his new Superior's renegade tactics, Sanborn has to learn to mitigate his better instincts, and work under newly intensified circumstances. Mackie’s perpetual scowl does little to expose the intricate foibles of a believable character, instead relying on proven tactics to provide a pretty standard rendition of the “straight man” to Renner’s off-kilter adversary. Score: 6
Brian Geraghty as Specialist Owen Eldridge: Geraghty is a Jarhead veteran who knows how to sell a terrified, death-fearing coward amongst war-hardened men. It’s a tired sort of character who makes the films other fearless wonder that much more, uh, ‘fearless'. In this film, he provides a little more depth to ‘Eldridge’ than he did to ‘Fergus O’Donnell’ in the former film. We see a scared man/boy torn between his allegiance to his colleagues and his inevitable date with destiny: untimely death. Despite brief scenes of comic promise, this character may as well have been written out of the film entirely. Its dead character weight that keeps the film from acquiring the stealthy-cadence war films require to be deemed ‘great.’ Score: 6
Talking: War lingo is hilarious. It probably shouldn’t be to civilians in the audience, but these young guys need humor in order to maintain their collective sanity in the field. The film’s best moments are in the dialogue used to prove a bond is being formed between the unlikeliest of foes. Though these guys are all on the same team, the sub-textual differences between them (namely Sanborn, and James) seem to pull them further apart despite an occasional moment of closeness. Reading between the lines is recommended, but watch out for a confusing array of systematically planted devices to insinuate these guys are becoming anything but great friends. Score: 8
Sights: The Iraqi desert has never looked inviting, and The Hurt Locker’s setting is no different. You may feel a drip of sweat trickles down your brow , even as you sit in an air-conditioned theater. The fact that pre-deposited bombs are buried virtually everywhere doesn’t help quell the searing, feverish ‘bad feelings’ lingering around every damaged corner. Score: 8
Sounds: Automatic weapons are insane. Several hundred flesh-tearing bullets litter the air throughout the film’s action sequences and that’s before the real damage is done. An ironically soothing soundtrack provides a balancing backdrop to the death-happy environment our heroes and antagonists populate. Only James’ sonic devotion to metal music shakes us from our impassive trance—This is a two hour proof that feeling nothing in the heat of battle is better than feeling everything. Score: 9
Best Scene: The opening scene in which you witness one of film’s most underrated actors (Guy Pierce) steal yet another scene. It’s a tone-setting introduction to a film that hardly intends to allow you to have a relaxing film-going experience.
Ending: Unexpected. Very little is wrapped up, and conclusions are scant. This isn’t entirely surprising, given the ever-altering landscape of war, and the ongoing inner-struggles of those who engage in it. However, it seemed as though the film itself would've done more to promote a solid message in its final moments. The characters are left with a collective open-endedness that may leave you feeling cheated, but don’t let that convince you the film itself is a failure. There are certain life-changing moments that are best kept to yourself, and this is a movie that understands this better than anything else.
Questions: The questions you’ll have upon the film’s conclusion aren’t so much frustrating grey-areas as they are expected befuddlement.
Rewatchability: I’d rather have this in my DVD/Blu-Ray collection than Jarhead, any day of the week. Do it.
This isn’t an award-winning ode to the harsh-realities of combat. There will be no red carpet laid out in front of director Kathryn Bigelow. But, believe it or not, this film’s better than Point Break. It may not be as iconic a theatrical release as Keanu’s star-making turn as ‘Johnny Utah,’ but it’s a far superior film in terms of story line, and character development. This is a film about keeping your cards close to your chest despite the fact that you know your ace is the highest. That’s the thing: Nobody’s going to wield a full house when they’re fighting a war. Everyone has one card to play, and it’s rarely a good one. This is what makes combat such a fascinating case study for filmmakers. It’s just a question of whether or not they can produce a memorable rendition of what such an experience can do to the psyche of even the toughest individuals. The Hurt Locker is far from perfect, but it’s in the imperfections of those who fight a war where you find what kind of ‘hurt’ they’re experiencing within.
Final Score: 7/10