The Hurt Locker opens with a quote. Don't read it. It spells out a major theme of the film too clearly. Just watch the movie and come up with your own quote. The production is a straightforward, gripping war movie and a fine character study that doesn't waste words. It deals with three men on a bomb disposal unit in 2004 Iraq.
Don't stop reading. Numerous films have been made about the Iraqi War over the past few years and most of them tanked big time. I won't speculate on the reasons, I'll just say this: The Hurt Locker is one of the best movies I've seen this year and it's nearly August. I can't imagine enough quality films coming out between now and Dec. 31 to keep it from landing very high on my "Best of 2009" list.
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow (K-19: The Widowmaker, The Weight of Water, Strange Days, Point Break), the production takes stock characters and creates something personal, intense, brutal, immediate and riveting. Seasoned vet Sgt. JT Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and skittish Spc. Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) have 38 days left in their rotation when their leader dies and is replaced by Staff Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner), who is an even bigger cowboy than the guy who just got killed.
Bigelow effectively uses all the tricks -- grainy images, jittery cameras, overexposure -- that most contemporary war flicks employ. The movie pays off so well because it places you fully in the shoes of the men, from their fears and obsessions to their paranoia about virtually every Iraqi citizen they encounter. We get to know the men with a minimum of explanatory speeches -- their personalities emerge through their on-the-job actions and off-hours interactions.
Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes, David Morse and Evangeline Lilly appear briefly, but the stars of the show are Mackie, Geraghty and especially Dahmer star Renner. Watch how well they take their stereotypes and make them specific. Watch how even the most predictable scene (the fretful soldier's therapist does a ride-along) is made memorable. There is a poignant storyline involving the cowboy soldier and a local kid that could be interpreted in two ways. Regardless of the conclusion you draw, the subplot is equally powerful. That's the kind of movie The Hurt Locker is.