Kathryn Bigelow, director of The Hurt Locker, is arguably one of the most underrated directors of the last 20 years. Female directors are already a rarity in Hollywood, but female action/sci-fi/horror directors are even rarer. Bigelow has mastered all three, with Near Dark, a low-budget Southern gothic vampire classic, Point Break, a visceral, campy masterpiece of bank-robbing surfers, and Strange Days, a brutal, hallucinatory dystopic trip that seems more prescient every day. And now, after a few fallow years, she’s made perhaps her most accessible piece, The Hurt Locker—and also the first relevant Iraq War II film to date.
The Hurt Locker concerns bomb-diffusers, perhaps the most high-pressure, dangerous job in the world. When the leader of a bomb-diffusing squad is killed in the line of duty, he is replaced by William James (the brilliant Jeremy Renner). James is very, very good at his job, but also takes risks to the point of madness. He is, as one Colonel sputters, “a wild man,” and the film centers on his crew’s last, perilous five weeks in the field.
The greatness of The Hurt Locker is its directness. An incredibly suspenseful, intense film, it doesn’t concern itself with “what does it all mean” posturing or a tedious three-act structure. It is immediate, episodic, and unsentimental. James is addicted to the adrenaline of his work, the near-death pressure that follows him like a cloud of gnats. He gets off on it, leading some to claim The Hurt Locker is propaganda. But I think that’s shortsighted. The fact is, some people like being in war. The Hurt Locker does not glorify the brutality of combat, but it does brilliantly get into to its hair-triggered tactility.
The Hurt Locker is virtually a perfect film. The cinematography and choreography are almost holographic in their authenticity. The script by journalist Mark Boal is tough and true and often funny. The acting is uniformly excellent, and Renner, in a star-making performance, particularly shines. Shifty and cocky, yet strangely charming, Renner emanates a contradictory Zen restlessness, a fusion of fear, courage, and daredevilry that cuts to the heart of the nature of combat.
The Hurt Locker is one of the best war movies ever made. It marks a triumphant return for Bigelow, who was semi-blacklisted after the flop of K-19. Go see it. A
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