During the Iraq War, a Sergeant recently assigned to an army bomb squad is put at odds with his squad mates due to his maverick way of handling his work.During the Iraq War, a Sergeant recently assigned to an army bomb squad is put at odds with his squad mates due to his maverick way of handling his work.During the Iraq War, a Sergeant recently assigned to an army bomb squad is put at odds with his squad mates due to his maverick way of handling his work.
"The Hurt Locker" slips up a bit, too, but to my surprise, I was able to forgive those missteps almost completely, because the movie on the whole is the most compelling war movie in many years, and just a great movie, period: terrifically acted, brilliantly conceived and directed, a work of true cinematic art. Like the committed professionals that it portrays, "The Hurt Locker" as a movie shows what movies are capable of when knowledgeable, experienced professionals are on top of their game.
"Saving Private Ryan" is generally regarded as THE modern war classic, and just about any picture set in war is going to draw at least a peripheral comparison to Steven Spielberg's flawed masterpiece, thanks to the still-detonating power of that film's master-class opening sequence, which took filmed combat to levels of never-before-seen verisimilitude. "The Hurt Locker" doesn't have that level of intensity, because it works on a smaller scale: the majority of the action is between individuals, not battalions. But there are extended sequences in "The Hurt Locker" that rival "Ryan" for impact, tightening the screws more slowly, more claustrophobically, until you feel as though you've been holding your breath even when you haven't. There are at least three of these sequences in "The Hurt Locker," all done in their own pace without dragging, all expertly performed, all showing a face of war that we haven't seen on film before.
There are bit roles from recognizable actors like David Morse (brilliant in his few moments on screen), Guy Pearce, and Ralph Finnes, but the majority of the acting load is shouldered by lesser-knowns Jeremy Renner and Anthony Mackie; they're both excellent. In a just world, this movie would be earning four hundred million in the US, not "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen." But while the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has pulled plenty of "say what?" moment in the past ("Crash," really?!?), they still have a chance to do right by this film and quality cinema in general: Best Picture nomination, a Best Director nod for Kathryn Bigelow, Best Screenplay (of some sort; this is based on journalism by the writer, Mark Boal, which may qualify it as "adapted" work), and acting nominations for Renner and Mackie. Yes, it's that good.
It's still only August and there's a lot of film to come in the ramp-up months to awards season, so this may be a stretch. But any movie that's going to top "The Hurt Locker" as my favorite of 2009 certainly has its work cut out for it.
BONUS POINTS: Unlike so many lesser films ("Crash," again looking in your direction), "The Hurt Locker" feels no need to explain its title on screen. There's never a point (at least that I recall) in which a character earnestly says, "Man, we're really in the hurt locker now" or words to that effect. A small point, sure, but just another nod to the creativity and confidence of the filmmakers.
- Aug 9, 2009