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Jeremy Renner, left, & Anthony Mackie in THE HURT LOCKER (Photo: Summit Entertainment)

THE HURT LOCKER
Directed by
Kathryn Bigelow
Produced by
Bigelow, Mark Boal, Nicolas Chartier & Greg Shapiro
Written by Boal
Released by Summit Entertainment
USA. 130 min. Rated R
With
Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty, Ralph Fiennes, David Morse & Guy Pearce
 

At a time when most critics have chimed in with the moviegoing publicís cries to stop making Iraqi war movies (especially ones that want to lecture us, as Paul Haggis did oh-so-subtly with his heavy-handed, underperforming In the Valley of Elah,), Kathryn Bigelowís The Hurt Locker busts into the art house to punch us in the stomach and squeeze the air out of our lungs. Many filmmakers can summon debates about the warís legitimacy to add pain to a depiction of the horrors of war; few can deliver an experience as visceral and exhilarating as The Hurt Locker. Bigelow, working from a script by seasoned journalist Mark Boal, fires on all cylinders.

The Bravo Company, a trio of bomb squad technicians stationed in Baghdad, have 38 days left in their tour. After their levelheaded leader meets his death in the opening scene, Sgt. William James steps in to show Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) a whole new way of doing things. As played by Jeremy Renner, James is a wild, go-it-alone adrenaline junkie tautly wrapped in a skin of discipline and emotional control. Heíll break the rules, but only because his expertly nourished instinct tells him that thatís the best way to meet the challenge at hand. A senior officer (David Morse in a cameo) tells James that heís probably defused more bombs than anyone else in Iraq, and we can see why; heís a master at negotiating the unpredictable, everyday lethal variables. His style irks Sanborn, a by-the-book pro, and at once attracts and repulses Eldridge, whoís still trying to find his sea legs in battle.

The Hurt Locker strings together seven set pieces throughout the 38 days, each one so riddled with tension and authenticated by details (in both the performances and technical craft) that itís hard not to be overwhelmed, and breaks them up with scenes of the characters off-duty at camp and around town. Even with its 130-minute running time, little here seems gratuitous. Each action scene succeeds in developing the characters organically, adding overall to the momentum instead of slowing it down.

Some will likely argue that The Hurt Lockerís particular insight into the war is too narrow, dismissive of the political implications, and too focused on the rush of battle. But no film can do everything without losing something. Make no mistake: The Hurt Locker is an action film, one thatís ready to blast its music and rile you up. It fetishizes images of men at war, but itís intelligent, itís human, and itís pure cinema. Patrick Wood
June 26, 2009

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