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HURT LOCKER, THE(director: Kathryn Bigelow; screenwriter: Mark Boal; cinematographer: Barry Ackroyd; editors: Bob Murawski/Chris Innis; music: Marco Beltrami/Buck Sanders; cast: Jeremy Renner (Staff Sgt. William James), Anthony Mackie (Sgt. J. T. Sanborn), Brian Geraghty (Specialist Owen Eldridge), Ralph Fiennes (Contractor Team Leader), David Morse (Colonel Reed), Guy Pearce (Sgt. Matt Thompson), Christopher Sayegh (“Beckham”), Christian Camargo (Col. John Cambridge); Runtime: 127; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Ms. Bigelow/Mr. Boal/Nicolas Chartier/Greg Shapiro; Summit Entertainment; 2009)
“A modern-day war classic.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The most intense and probably the best pic yet about the Iraqi war is written by embedded Village Voice journalist Mark Boal, who spent time with a bomb squad in Baghdad four years ago. The gripping fiction story plays out like a documentary. It’s a modern-day war classic directed by Kathryn Bigelow (“Strange Days”/”The Weight of Water”/ “K-19: The Widowmaker”). The uneven filmmaker’s most satisfying film has her with an eye out for what makes this war different from others and sees a lot through her handheld cameras that makes us feel a true sense of what it feels like to be on the front lines of a war fought in cities among civilians, making it like no other prolonged war involving American troops. It was shot in Jordan.

It opens with a quote from Chris Hedges, a former war correspondent for The New York Times, that states “war is a drug.”

We see brave U.S. army Tech Sgt. Matt Thompson (Guy Pearce), head of an elite three-man team of the Explosive Ordinance Disposal unit in Baghdad, in 2004, getting killed in an explosion when removing a bomb from the rubble in the street and having the wagon removing the bomb by robot come up with a flat tire and then the bomb activated by a nearby bystander with a cellphone as he fixes the flat. The team leader is replaced by career veteran Staff Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner), who has the same name as the pragmatic 19th-century philosopher and pioneering American psychologist. James is someone who lives for the adrenaline rush of the dangerous mission and upsets his two subordinates, the professional by-the-book Sgt. J.T. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and the quirky, nervous, and eager to please Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty), on a mission over his head, by too willingly taking risks when the bomb squad is called into action and thereby also putting these two survivalists in unnecessary danger. For the remainder of the film, which is counted down as 38 days left to the tour of Bravo Company’s 365 days, there’s one dangerous bomb incident after another and James proves to be quite the wild man who goes into action like an artist living for the thrill to do his artistry–a cowboy who should more aptly be named Jesse James for his steel nerves and willingness to risk his life in order not to lead a mundane life (Renner had a small part in “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Bob Ford”)

The film totally concentrates on these three brave soldiers and their different attitudes about duty, surviving the war and what the war has done to their psyches. If anything, it’s a convincingly forceful depiction of urban warfare–a conflict seen entirely through this bomb disarming unit dealing daily with suicide bombers, shadowy figures and I.E.D.’s.

Renner gives a fantastic performance despite his character being almost entirely of one-note, as he gets into the head of his machismo character and makes him believable as a working-class grunt/artist who takes pride in doing a good job and not thinking too much about what he’s doing. Ms. Bigelow shuns any psychological analysis of the soldiers and shoots instead for the sheer physicality of Bravo Company’s mission and comes up with a muscular and visceral no-nonsense war drama, that provides no answers but raises a lot of red flags about the mission in Iraq that seems to go on with no end in sight.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”