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The Hurt Locker (2009)

2009 Catch-Up: Josh Reviews The Hurt Locker

March 4th, 2010

After months and months of reading praise for Kathryn Bigelow’s film The Hurt Locker, I finally was able to see the film on DVD.  (Once again, thank you Netflix!)  I am extremely pleased to report that, for me, the film lived up to its hype.

In the bravura opening sequence, we meet Delta Company, an elite unit of the U.S. Army serving in Iraq.  Delta Company consists of the men who get called in to disarm and/or detonate I.E.D.s (Improvised Explosive Devices) and all manner of other sorts of explosives before they can kill any U.S. servicemen/woman or others.  The tense, harrowing first few minutes of the film tell us everything we need to know about the incredible bravery and ability of the men of Delta Company who we’ll be following through the film, the excruciatingly difficult task that they are called upon to deal with every single day, and the high fatality rates of their assignments.

The Hurt Locker focuses on three men in Delta Company.  Anthony Mackie plays Sgt. JT Sanborn — a tough, by-the book officer of great professionalism.  Brian Geraghty plays Specialist Owen Eldridge, the youngest member of the team.  Eldridge struggles with the weight of the life-and-death assignments that he must take on every day, but we never see those concerns affect his performance in the field.  Then there is Staff Sgt. William James, played by Jeremy Renner in a phenomenal, star-making performance.  SSG James is assigned to head up Delta Company after the death of their previous field leader.  James is an extraordinarily talented officer, but we quickly learn that he is not one for by-the-book procedures.  This brings him into conflict with Sgt. Sanborn, who judges James to be reckless and dangerous.  Young Eldridge finds himself caught somewhat in the middle.

That could be the plot of a great movie, but The Hurt Locker isn’t really a drama about conflict within a military unit.  Though we see evidence of that conflict that I have just described over the course of the story, The Hurt Locker isn’t concerned with typical Hollywood war-movie character arcs or story-lines.  Rather, director Kathryn Bigelow has created a film whose main purpose, it seems to me, is to put the viewer right in the middle of the intense, every-moment-could-be-your-last job that these men serving in Iraq have been given.  Through careful direction, tight editing, and above all stupendous acting, The Hurt Locker consists of one nail-biting sequence after another.

The film is episodic in nature.  In less capable hands this could be a weakness, undermining the narrative thrust that a successful film needs to achieve.  But under the sure guidance of Ms. Bigelow, the episodic structure of the … [continued]