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Low-key approach nails horrors of war

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/7/2009 (4083 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Jeremy Renner runs for cover in The Hurt Locker.


Jeremy Renner runs for cover in The Hurt Locker.

Most of the movies set in and around the war in Iraq (Stop-Loss, Home of the Brave) have come to the screen with an agenda to show that the war was, well, a bad idea.

Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker never bothers to state the obvious. Instead, it's a movie that chooses to define the Iraq war at ground level through its most insidious feature: Improvised Explosive Devices.

Tasked with defusing the hidden bombs littering the Baghdad landscape, Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner) comes to Bravo Company with an impressive success rate -- 873 devices defused -- and a reputation as a cowboy.

It turns out the rep is deserved, a fact that causes ripples of tension between James and Sgt. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie), the man obliged to prevent James from becoming another casualty. Completing the trio is Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) a soldier carrying the burden of a guilty conscience as a result of his failure to prevent the death of James's predecessor.

The act of defusing a bomb is one of the most hackneyed devices in the suspense film, but Bigelow turns the clichés around in a big way, most significantly by establishing the fact that trust is a rare commodity, whether between soldiers and Iraqi citizens and between the soldiers themselves.

Bigelow, who also directed the films Point Break and K-19: The Widowmaker, happens to be an astute observer of the dynamics of men working in high-stress situations, a talent that comes in especially handy during a slow but riveting sequence in which the soldiers come under fire in the middle of the desert and must mount their own sniper assault in response to their all but invisible enemies. (Forget about the suspense of defusing a bomb. In this sequence, the minutes crawl by as the soldiers struggle through a series of small challenges just to return sniper fire.)

Written by Mark Boal, a freelance writer who embedded with a bomb disposal unit early in the Iraq war, this is a film that doesn't distract with big self-aggrandizing political statements, but nevertheless succeeds in nailing the horror of the war.

In the lead role, Renner (especially impressive as a psychotic outlaw in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) again proves he's one of the more interesting young actors working these days, with a compelling portrayal of a man whose work is so outrageously dangerous, it becomes an outright addiction.

Randall King

Randall King

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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