In 'The Hurt Locker,' a complicated hero addicted to the rush of war
"The Hurt Locker," Kathryn Bigelow's riveting Iraq war film, is told from the perspective of a weary bomb squad whose new leader (Jeremy Renner) is a wild card.
Special to The Seattle Times
"The Hurt Locker," with Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Ralph Fiennes, Guy Pearce, David Morse, Evangeline Lilly. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow, from a screenplay by Mark Boal. 131 minutes. Rated R for war violence and language. Egyptian, Lincoln Square; see Page 17.
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It's hard to know what to make of Staff Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner of "28 Weeks Later") the first few times he goes into action in Kathryn Bigelow's "The Hurt Locker."
As the new head of an elite U.S. Army bomb-disposal team in Iraq, James is unsettlingly casual about defusing or dismantling small-to-large IEDs, or Improvised Explosive Devices. (Those are the bombs used by the insurgency in Iraq since the U.S. invaded.)
Uncomfortable in a bulky, protective "bomb suit," James sometimes sheds it while working wherever explosives are found: on the side of a road, connected to corpses, left in packages. Unable to locate an IED in an abandoned car — but making a perfect target for insurgent snipers — James insistently tears the vehicle apart despite the pleas of a seasoned subordinate, Sgt. JT Sanborn (Anthony Mackie of "Notorious").
It makes one wonder: Is James nuts? Hooked on chaos? Or just so good at his job he's entitled to do it his way?
By the time "The Hurt Locker" is over, it's possible to have believed any one of those options at different points. Bigelow's sweaty-palms thriller, a combat film rooted in reportage by formerly embedded journalist Mark Boal, concerns both the day-to-day nightmare of encountering multiple IEDs for a year and the appeal of wartime danger to individuals who thrive on a sense of control.
Boal's unusual script is structured, in large part, as a relentlessly tense drama, a string of missions punctuated by James' and Sanborn's downtime restlessness. (Bigelow also breaks up the suspense a bit with well-placed cameo appearances by Ralph Fiennes, Guy Pearce and David Morse.)
The story also hints that James — who, by the way, is played by Renner as a low-key and likable fellow — is so bent by battle his judgment is askew concerning ordinary relationships.
Shot near the Iraqi border in Jordan, the mesmerizing "Hurt Locker" — with its fever-dream tone, ravaged backdrops and realistic action — is certainly among the most accomplished works of Bigelow, a distinctive action director with several cult films ("Strange Days," "Point Break") to her credit.
Bigelow's admiration for James is as obvious as her determination to portray him honestly as a damaged, complicated hero. That interesting duality keeps this story as unpredictable and tragic as it is genuinely riveting.
Tom Keogh: firstname.lastname@example.org
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