Saturday, July 18, 2009
“…war is a drug.” These words, as quoted from journalist Chris Hedges, open “The Hurt Locker” (currently playing at Landmark's Hillcrest Cinemas), an adrenaline-infused war film from director Kathryn Bigelow that is sure to give you more bang for your buck than almost any other film this year. The film opens with a bomb squad in Baghdad sometime in the year 2004. A remote-controlled, bomb-defusing bot sent out by the team discovers a large metal cylinder amongst a pile of rubble; it looks like they’ve found what they’ve come for, and now they have to get to work. The team’s bomb technician and leader, Sgt. Thompson (played by Guy Pearce, who supplies one of the many celebrity cameos in this film), must suit up and manually deactivate the bomb as his two teammates supply him with cover. What follows is one of the most suspenseful, gut-wrenching moments I’ve seen in recent film. Suffice to say, things don’t go as planned, and now the team is met by a new technician, Sgt. James (Jeremy Renner), a man whose cockiness and disregard for protocol makes him the exact antithesis of the team’s former leader.
Bigelow manages to divorce this film from any particular political agenda and instead treats this story as it should be treated, as a story about men doing their job, constantly fighting against unknown enemies, putting their lives at risk to save the lives of the people around them, both soldiers and civilians. However, the film’s core tension doesn’t stem from some sort of villainous terrorist group, but rather it stems from within through the interactions of these three men stuck in one of the most tumultuous and threatening places in the world. James’ methods incur hostile reactions from his teammates, especially Sgt. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie), who even greets James with a punch in the face after James takes off his headset during a mission. The tension gradually subsides and the team’s mood changes to one of trust, support, and even friendship, as evidenced in one of the film’s best scenes when the group find themselves taking on a group of deadly snipers with the assistance of a team of British soldiers in the middle of the desert. However, the story for these men isn’t so neatly tied up as that. As the film progresses, the men are faced with some of the most difficult and at times truly disturbing horrors found in their line of work, pushing their limits and exposing their greatest fears.
The action in this film isn’t flashy or quick; rather it takes its time, putting the audience in the shoes of these men who constantly are put into situations where their lives could be taken at any moment. Defusing a bomb isn’t a quick cut-and-run operation, especially when one has to deal not only with the worry of finding the right wire, but also of whether or not the bomb could be activated remotely by any of the dozens of bystanders watching these men do their job. The characters of this film are thrown right into the heart of darkness, and one thing we quickly discover is that for Sgt. James this isn’t just a job, it’s his calling in life. He’s not willing to just walk away when the clock is ticking, instead he hangs on, telling his teammates and himself, “I can figure this out.” This work gives him, as well as the audience, a mixture of adrenaline rush and sense of purpose, a drive to do what he knows he was meant to do and what he does best. For James at least, this lifestyle, this work is just as addictive as any drug.
I could go on and on about all "The Hurt Locker" (rated R) has to offer, the wonderful performances, the brilliant cinematography, the incredible editing, and the well-crafted screenplay by Mark Boal (also a journalist) yet what ties it all together is the direction of Bigelow. She manages to make a film that is both pulse-pounding and at times thought-provoking, and in the end has created what may be the best action film of the year, and all without relying on hundreds of millions of dollars or extensive reliance on CGI that have become staples for most modern day action filmmakers. All I can say is if this film is playing near you, do yourself a favor and seek it out because I guarantee, your eyes will be glued to the screen for the entire 130 minute run-time, I know mine were.
--Michael Shymon just graduated from The Bishop's School. He has had an avid passion for film since he was about 5. He enjoys acting, writing, watching movies, as well as making his own films. He will be attending NYU Tisch Film School next year and hopes that all this movie watching will one day pay off.