Sat 11 Jul 2009
Toyota ads are getting more and more esoteric.
The Iraq War has been the subject of numerous films and documentaries; “Three Kings”, “Gunner Palace”, “No End in Sight” and “Stop-Loss” to name a few. Now it’s director Kathryn Bigelow’s turn with “The Hurt Locker”.
What separated her film from so many others is that it doesn’t take sides and it’s not preaching about the merits of the war. The setting is merely the backdrop to take a look at an Explosives Ordinance Disposal unit and how they cope with being placed in harrowing situations day after day during their company’s final weeks of duty in Iraq before their tour comes to an end (screenwriter Mark Boal is a journalist who has accompanied an EOD unit in Iraq).
Jeremy Renner turns in a fantastic performance, coloring his character with strength, doubt, bravado, humor and heart. How anyone could decide that trying to disarm bombs is a good career move is beyond me, but to do so within a war zone where anyone on the street could be hiding a gun or the detonator … well, that just takes brass ones the size of coconuts. Renner manages to maneuver his character through a myriad of archetypes; adrenaline junkie, courageous soldier, humble hero, regretful husband and father – all the while keeping the audience guessing at exactly what it is that motivates him to go on each day.
Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the role is how Renner’s character is a cowboy most of the time but given a bomb to dispose of becomes all business. His demeanor switches on and off like a switch when necessary and a cool calm prevails under the worst circumstances. It’s clear he’s far more at ease with an explosive device about to go off than with the prospect of being a normal guy on a family trip to the supermarket.
Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty make up the rest of Renner’s unit and also deliver fine performances. Geraghty is trying to keep from crackling and Mackie would just like Renner to stop being so apparently reckless on the job. The dynamic between the three is wonderful to see, as the brotherhood of soldiers is tested by the events that unfold in the film.
There are also cameo roles by Guy Pearce, Christian Camargo, Ralph Fiennes, David Morse and Evangeline Lilly. Each add a piece to the three main soldiers’ character puzzles and help to keep the film from being too myopic (thankfully the lead actors all do such a nice job that this isn’t too worrisome).
The action in the film is not so much about huge firefights (though there is plenty of gun play) but moreso, about the thick tension involved in trying to disarm crudely made bombs on the street, in a car, or wherever they may be placed. From the beginning, the audience is made aware just how easily these soldiers could become footnotes in history and Bigelow deftly presents these scenes, managing to heighten the drama without succumbing to simple red wire/blue wire dilemmas as most films tend to do with bomb disposals.
Although it does many, many things well, I was a little dissatisfied with the lack of any goal to the soldiers’ efforts. I realize there is a point within that but because this is a true character study, where no objective must be reached other than to examine how these brave men and women deal with the supremely stressful situations they are placed in day in and day out, I felt like this was a train ride with no destination.
Still, from the perspective of a character study, Bigelow has crafted an excellent film and one well worth seeing, even with its two hour plus runtime and lack of secondary characters, the film’s momentum rarely flags. “The Hurt Locker” gets a strong 4 out of 5 and this is an easy pick over most of the schlock wafting through the theaters right now.