The film is set among a small group of soldiers in an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) unit as they go out and attempt to defuse a variety of complicated bombs on the streets of Baghdad. Some of the bombs are very tricky and involve people, cars, garbage, bags and just anything that can go unseen or is able to draw out American targets for attack. Watching people defuse bombs is a built in tension generator so seeing this happen again and again in varying ways only aided the film's suspense level.
Written by Mark Boal, the film smartly doesn't try to address all the preconceptions or messages about war, either the Iraq War or war in general. In fact, Boal and Bigelow not only avoid those things, they embrace the entire nature of war and what it is to be a soldier by focusing on this small group and what they do everyday. War is dangerous, it is terrifying, it is exciting, it is destructive, it is a bonding experience and it is completely life changing for the people who have to go through it. Some people, as crazy as it might sound, are soldiers for a reason--they are good at doing something the vast majority of us could never do. The Hurt Locker puts all of these emotions on the screen in two hours without even trying to say "war is bad" and you know what--that's more effective, gripping and powerful when done with the absolute unbridled confidence that is on display here from Bigelow. The film tells its story and lets the viewer's intelligence make up its own mind. How refreshing!
The cast in The Hurt Locker is remarkable. Jeremy Renner, an actor I've honestly never even noticed before this, delivers a stunning, blistering performance as the leader of the team. Renner is riveting and dominates every scene that he's in and deserves talk of Oscars for this role. Very good support in the other two main roles is given by Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty. I love that the three leads are not well known actors that might distract us--choosing more anonymous performers to base the story around gives a tone of reality to the film. Three well known heavy hitters show up for small roles--Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes and David Morse--but I almost wish that their parts would have been done by unknowns. Although, seeing Morse chew up dialogue in one scene was one of my favorite things in the film as I am a big fan of his.
Bigelow, who is the only female director I can think of who has made a career of making tough, ramped up and interesting action films (Near Dark, Point Break, Strange Days) has unleashed the best, most thought out, and frankly, the most bad-ass film of her career. There are moments in The Hurt Locker when I was so entranced in what I was witnessing that I couldn't believe it when the scene was over. There's no better feeling when you watch a lot of films over the year to be blown away by a film from the start all the way to the finish. Bigelow does not let up on the throttle the entire movie and I'm incredibly impressed by her directing in this.
The Hurt Locker will be in the running for my best of in 2009. It's thrilling, honest, gripping, exhausting, tender, intelligent and aggressive. The film grabs you by the shoulders and throws you back in your seat from the moment it starts, never lets go and when its over, it stays with you. I can't stop thinking about it. That's great filmmaking. The Hurt Locker is a stunning piece of work and highly, highly recommended.