Saturday, January 16, 2010

Movie Review: The Hurt Locker

DIRECTED BY: Kathryn Bigelow
STARRING: Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty, Ralph Fiennes, David Morse and Guy Pearce

Iraq, 2004. Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner) is the reckless new leader of the Bravo Company elite Army bomb squad after the death of Sgt. Matt Thompson (Guy Pearce) in the line of duty. James joins JT Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) with just over a month left of the Bravo Company's rotation. The film tracks those remaining few weeks as Sanborn and Eldridge struggle to cope with James' unconventional and dangerous leadership qualities.

Unlike most recent war films, The Hurt Locker focuses on a select group of men (mainly James, Sanborn and Eldridge) which actually allows the viewer to appreciate the characters and their development. Unlike Black Hawk Down, for example, these men don't just become another face in a big cast of characters, without a memorable personality. In focusing on a specific, elite group of combatants, Bigelow is allowing an attachment to form between the characters and the audience. James, Sanborn and Eldridge also lack the typical macho war mentality often found in these types of films. These three men are just average guys who happen to have incredibly dangerous careers, which makes them all the more likeable and sympathetic. They fear for their lives but understand that what they are doing is important.

Kathryn Bigelow has just as good a chance at winning Best Director at this years Oscars than anyone else. She can make as solid, intense and exciting a war film as any of the big league boys. The film is visually compelling, whether the focus is on something as small as a tangled web of bomb wires or as grand as a massive, devastating explosion. Bigelow provides a nice balance of quieter character scenes and grandiose gun battles. Amidst all the violence and chaos, her startling images of death and destruction, and the characters in the middle of it all, really resonate.

Jeremy Renner, as adrenaline-junkie Sgt. James, gives an excellent performance in one of his first starring roles. Despite the fact that he has a wife and baby son back home, James' main focus in life is his job of dismantling bombs. However, through Bigelow's direction and Renner's excellent performance, James also comes across as someone who would make a great father (in a memorable scene where he bonds with a young Iraqi boy named "Beckham", who loves soccer and sells burned DVDs) and a genuinely capable and respected leader (illustrated in the scene where a dehydrated James gives the last of his juice to Sanborn in the midst of a sniper battle). Those smaller moments that develop character, paired with the intense action scenes, makes James a great and, more importantly, likeable hero.

The supporting cast is also solid, specifically Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty as Sanborn and Eldridge. However, there are some great cameos as well, including Guy Pearce as the doomed Sgt. Thompson, David Morse as Colonel Reed and Ralph Fiennes as an unnamed British "Contractor Team Leader."

The Hurt Locker is definitely one of the years standout films; an intense and emotionally charged war film. It's heart-stopping action scenes and little character details and quirks will likely draw in any viewer who appreciates a well-rounded film. While it's not quite Best Picture of the year material, it is arguably great enough to at least merit Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Director and Actor, all of which is likely to happen.