Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Hurt Locker ****

The Hurt Locker
**** out of ****

Note: This post contains mild spoilers.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you my first four-star review since I started this blog. And I can almost guarantee that no one who reads this has seen this movie yet, and less than half of you have even heard of it. The Hurt Locker is an indie movie that audiences can smell a mile away, the kind that the trailers try to sell to them by using blurbs in the trailer like "a really great movie" and such because the footage can't sell itself. It's the kind of movie that regular moviegoers point their noses up at and professional critics have orgasms for, the kind of movie that gets dozens of four-star reviews but in actuality flops at the box office and is generally considered an artsy piece of crap. Well, this is the indie movie for the general population- one that reaches the critics and the audience. (It should be noted that the film isn't really an indie at all; it's produced by Summit Entertainment, a new company that is currently earning bank by making the Twilight movies; it's just getting an indie release, meaning it's playing nowhere for now.)
The film opens with a quote that says, in so many words, that "war is a drug." We see what it means by that: the main character is nothing if not addicted to the thrill he gets from being in a war, from being an inch from death and having the skills necessary to stop his own death. The place is Baghdad, Iraq. The time is 2004. Anyone who doesn't know what's going on then should smack themselves right now. The film follows three Americans in the Army whose job is to find bombs and disarm them. At the beginning, the group is led by a Sergeant Thompson, played by Guy Pearce. A disarming goes badly and he dies. His replacement is Staff Sergeant James, a forty-year-old Army man with the discipline of a third-grader. He doesn't take his job seriously in the slightest, probably because he's defused hundreds of bombs and is the best at what he does. His partner is Sergeant Sanborn, a black man that isn't used to James' work tactics and who clashes with him from the very first day. The youngest member of their group is Specialist Eldridge, who talks to a counsellor and seems to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, especially after Thompson's death. When the three of them get news of a possible IED, as they call it, they strap their leader up in an explosive suit that makes him look like an astronaut and he goes to try and disarm it.
The first half of the film follows them on a few of these expeditions and the storyline seems rather loose, making the audience wonder where the film is going. The guys talk together, swap stories, they drink and beat each other up. It's not until the second half where we see the point of the film is to portray war as it actually is. They say war is 99% waiting around and 1% sheer terror. This film reflects that perfectly (if the percentages are slightly skewed). It has much more suspense than it does actual combat and shoot-outs. You find yourself gripping the chair, expecting something to happen like in a horror film, and nothing does happen. But just as you're sure nothing will happen, something does, scaring the crap out of you. Just like actual war. The characters are just like real soldiers: these guys aren't heroes, they're just guys in the desert with guns.
The casting is strangley perfect: they cast little-known actors in the leads and big names in small parts to reverse the Hollywood perception of war films, and allowing you to focus on the situation at hand. James is played by Jeremy Renner, who you'll recognize from TV's The Unusuals. Renner plays James as a cocky smartass who's constantly cracking jokes, yet turns it off immediately when there's danger around, because that adrenaline rush is his heroine, and he can't miss a single second of it. Through the course of the film, we see him lose his cool for the first time. Sanborn is played with intensity by Anthony Mackie (Million Dollar Baby, Notorious). While he's a person the audience inherently trusts, he drives one of the most uncomfortable scenes, where he contemplates killing James and making it look like an accident. Brian Geraghty (Bobby, The Guardian) plays the scared kid Eldridge, giving the film a sensitive side. He drives the film's most emotional scene. Ralph Fiennes appears briefly as a soldier they meet in the middle of nowhere, right before being caught in a shoot-out. Lost's Evangeline Lilly has a small part as James' ex-wife back in America, at the end of the movie.
As far as war films go, this one's pretty low-key as it concentrates more on suspense than action. The handheld camerawork makes it all seem more real, but there are a few very cinematic slow-mo shots. Honestly though, the movie is so funny, so gripping, and so addicting to watch that I can't find any serious flaws with it. Even people who don't like war films would be sucked in, although the pervasive language of the soldiers might alienate some viewers. It's without a doubt one of the best films of the year, and- I'm serious- definitely in the top 10 best war films ever made. It's an early Oscar contender, and will surely find its way into the Best Picture race.
I would recommend this film to anyone who likes war movies, and suspenseful thrillers.

You can watch the trailer here:

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