Thursday, June 25, 2009

Review: "The Hurt Locker"

It seems like Kathryn Bigelow's much buzzed about and widely admired The Hurt Locker should have come out a long time ago. Critics and bloggers have been talking about it for a long time, many of us having seen it months ago or even longer.

And rightly so, The Hurt Locker, probably the first straight action movie to come out of the Iraq war, is a fantastic film that deserves to be noticed. But one can't help but wonder if waiting this long to release it may hurt it in the long run.

Like I said, it feels like it has been so long since I saw this film that it should have already come and gone. But I can't help but wonder if Summit is trying to drive the point home that keeps getting brought up again and again - this isn't just another Iraq war movie.

Nearly all the films to deal with Iraq directly so far have been commercial flops. But almost every one had some kind of serious political message. For a country weary of war, movies that remind people what a horrible situation we're in just aren't attracting big box office numbers, and understandably so.

But The Hurt Locker is different. Bigelow has no political agenda here, no axe to grind, and no message to convey. Her goal is to thrill, and she succeeds in spades. This is no weepy "war is hell" drama, this is a hard-edged, white knuckle action movie that turns on the tension to the max and never lets up.

Following an elite military bomb squad in Iraq, The Hurt Locker centers around hotshot squad leader William James (Jeremy Renner), who arrives to replace the squad's fallen former leader. But his over confidence and cocky swagger put him at odds with his crew, as he throws caution to the wind, putting the crew in increasingly tight and dangerous situations.

The Hurt Locker has one goal on its mind, and that is to give its audience the ride of their lives. And that is precisely what it does. Diffusing bombs has got to be one of the most nerve-shredding cinematic devices ever created, and Bigelow grinds out every last ounce of tension possible. This is absolute top drawer action filmmaking, with masterful use of editing and sound design to create maximum suspense. Her portrayal of the comraderie between the soldiers makes it that much more intense.

Few movies can actually claim to be completely unpredictable, but unlike most Hollywood action thrillers, The Hurt Locker actually delivers on that promise. Just when you think you know who will live and who will die, Bigelow changes directions and pulls the rug out from under us. It is a testament to her craft that she is able to keep up the level of tension and supsense right up until the end, but no other film this year has delivered the thrills like this one does. Forget for a second that this is an Iraq movie and just go. As taut and tense as a trip-wire, The Hurt Locker is a go-for-broke, hang on for dear life, action thrill ride that, from an artist's perspective, also happens to be one of the most well made films so far this year.

GRADE - ★★★½ (out of four)

THE HURT LOCKER; Directed by Kathryn Bigelow; Stars Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty, Guy Pierce, Ralph Fiennes, David Morse, Evangeline Lilly; Rated R for war violence and language. Opens tomorrow, 6/26, in New York and Los Angeles.

GRADE -

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