Kathryn Bigelow, a director who made her mark on adrenaline-junkie fare, most notably Point Break, finds her ultimate subject in the men in The Hurt Locker, bomb disposal experts working the deadly streets of Iraq.
This beyond-the-headlines war movie, a thriller from journalist-turned-screenwriter Mark Boal (In The Valley of Elah), is the first Iraq war movie to qualify as more first-rate entertainment than sermon.
Bravo Company has barely 30 days left "in country." Then, Sgt. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie, terrific) and Specialist Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) meet their worst nightmare. Their new tech, the fellow who runs the robot that checks out suspicious packages, isn't a fan of "the 'bot." He isn't a take-his-time, "let's be careful out there" type. The moment Will James (Jeremy Renner, in a breakout performance) swaggers into harm's way in his bulky bomb-resistant suit, Sanborn gets him: "Reckless."
Eldridge has seen enough death to become obsessed with it and be blunt — "He's gonna get me killed."
The film entertainingly trots through standard war movie situations and Iraq war specifics. Every "mission" is a tense race between bomber and bomb squad, which has to outsmart the bad guy before more bad guys — snipers — show up.
The Hurt Locker drags us into one nerve-fraying trap after another, deadly work under the vengeful eyes of a populace staring down from windows above, any one of whom can hold a rifle or a cell-phone that sets off the bomb and kills them, suit or no suit.
The dynamics of the "unit" might be familiar — the sergeant determined to keep his men alive, the "grunt" who is under the company psychologist's care. But Renner and the script create a character of surprising depth as James slowly reveals what he is really about.
War-movie clichés aside, The Hurt Locker is revealing and action-packed, with nervy combat scenes that will make you flinch. And the splendid cast will make you care about soldiers doing the most dangerous job on Earth in the deadliest place to do it.