2009-08-07 / Entertainment/Lifestyles

MovieScope

The Hurt Locker' - The World's Worst Work
By Robert Snyder

The worst job in the world has to be diffusing roadside bombs in Iraq.

Yet, according to film, "The Hurt Locker," there are soldiers who thrive on this type of detailed-oriented, deadly dangerous work. One in particular, Staff Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner) could be called, "an adrenaline junkie," who can't wait to get his hands and wire-cutter on a ticking I.E.D. (Improvised Explosive Device). He's the personification of New York Times war correspondent Chris Hedges' perception that, "War is a drug."

Others in the U.S. Army bomb squad are not so gung ho. Sergeant J.T. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) are professionals providing the diffuser with cover, while counting the days until their tour of duty is done. In fact, what they fear as much as the bombs is that James' loose-cannon insanity will get them killed. At one point, Sanborn considers offing James himself. Eldridge is close enough to slipping into depression that smooth-talking non-combatant Colonel Reed (David Morse) hounds him with unscheduled therapy sessions. When Reed pushes that war can be a positive experience, Eldridge refers to the Army-recruiting logo. "It says, 'Be all that you can be.' You know what I'm going to be? Dead."

The most powerful non-documentary feature yet on the Iraq war, "The Hurt Locker" is directed with sure hand by Kathryn Bigelow ("Point Break") from an insightful script by journalist Mark Boal, who imbedded with such a bomb squad during the Iraq War in 2004. The Jordan locations look like the hot real dusty deal, as the locals stare seemingly, but not necessarily, detached, at the G.I.s trying to abort the bombs in cars, under sand, inside corpses and on people sometimes pleading for help. In the 2 hours and 10 minutes of screen time, not one second is slack. The suspense is often unbearable.

At the center of the hurricane is Staff Sergeant James in a breakthrough performance by Renner. James has a sensitive side that offsets his obsessiveness, eventually bonding with his brothers-in-arms and providing vital support to Eldridge when he's most rattled.

While the actors are unknowns, a couple of well-placed cameos (Guy Pearce and Ralph Fiennes) give "Locker" a nice lift. The Fiennes episode comes during an extended duel in the sun that becomes more of a psychological cat-and-mouse between combatants than a standard war-movie gunfire fest.

"The Hurt Locker" is an important film that if seen, won't be forgotten. See it and be reminded of what is happening right now in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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