The Iraq war. What is it good for? More than six years in, you’ve made your mind up by now and no film will change it. So The Hurt Locker doesn’t try to.
Instead director Kathryn Bigelow shifts focus from those that chatter to those that matter – the soldiers – and in doing so has crafted the finest film made about the Bush/Blair Iraq assault and its protracted aftermath yet.
It helps, of course, that she has Point Break in her canon, taking the tension and thrills of her 1991 classic to the battlefields of Baghdad and, specifically, to a specialised unit of bomb disposers.
These Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) blast-busters are Sgt James (Jeremy Renner), Sgt Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Eldridge (Brian Geraghty), war buddies as family – dad, mum and cry-baby respectively – always squabbling, but forever watching each other’s backs as they tackle various ticking sites amid the chaos of conflict.
As such, the story is slight. Indeed, it’s little more than a series of set pieces – road bomb, car bomb, man bomb – but so fraught is the trio’s every move that watching is exhausting. Take a slow-build scene out in the desert where the Americans rifle-fire at insurgents in the blistering heat…
It may seem trite to say so, but not since the opening of Saving Private Ryan has a war movie made you feel so much part of the battle, the time writer Mark Boal spent embedded creaking into every edge-of-the- seat scene.
The little-known Renner is absolutely superb, both hero and villain as he recklessly leads his crew seemingly without plan. For his Sgt James’ war is a drug, a rush needed that nothing (booze, family, USA) can match.
Sure, The Hurt Locker doesn’t hold a mirror to our times like Vietnam’s finest did, but such films came years after the final bullet was fired. For now, forget WMDs and belated enquiries and join those picking up the pieces after the secrets and lies.
It is their story that The Hurt Locker tells and it’s more all the more exhilarating for it.
Bigelow makes a welcome return with a thrilling, edgy and, yes, explosive film about the toughest job in the world. What’s The Hurt Locker? Something special.