The Hurt Locker
EmptyVenice Film Festival, In Competition
The definitive film about the U.S. involvement in Iraq has yet to be made, and "The Hurt Locker" doesn't aspire to compete in the category. Tensely action-packed and muscularly directed by Kathryn Bigelow, this tale of an elite U.S. army bomb disposal unit in Baghdad is a familiar story in new clothes, targeted at the young male demographic. Its Iraq setting is downplayed as incidental, perhaps to avoid the commercial disappointment of the two Iraq-themed titles screened in Venice last year, "Redacted" and "In the Valley of Elah." "Locker's" refusal to take a moral stance on the war should widen its audience to the U.S. military, while lowering its chance for a a major festival prize.
Bigelow (Point Break, K-19: The Widowmaker) and screenwriter Mark Boal (who has story credit on "In the Valley of Elah") here toy with the idea of war as a drug whose adrenaline-inducing excitement is addictive. In a fast-paced opener, shot like newsreel footage, a three-man team loses their commander (Guy Pearce) when he tries to detonate a street bomb. Arriving to take his place is Sgt. Will James (Jeremy Renner), who immediately does something incredibly dangerous, demonstrating fearlessness bordering on a death wish.
His men Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) are shocked by his reckless behavior. Sanborn is furious with him for not following the rules, and Eldridge is scared out of his wits. As they bounce around the gutted city in their Humvee, counting the days until their tour of duty is over, their missions become increasingly dangerous. On one, the foolhardy Sgt. James removes his protective suit to disarm a car rigged with explosives in front of the U.N. building. On another, he tries to help a frightened man remove explosives locked to his body before a timer blows him to kingdom come.
At one point, they stumble across a make-shift bomb factory and find the blood-soaked body of a young boy. His stomach is stuffed with explosives - he apparently died while being turned into a human bomb. James's emotional reaction to the sight readies us for a plot twist, but leads to nothing more than a picturesque solo excursion through nighttime Baghdad. Typically, his encounter with the locals is fleeting and inconclusive.
For a film purporting to be about soldiers' psychology, "The Hurt Locker" makes little in-depth analysis of its characters. An army psychologist (Christian Camargo) spouting priestly platitudes to poor terrified Eldridge gets short shrift from the manly script. As final credits roll, James's motivation is the same as when he first came on screen: he simply gets high on danger.
Renner, Mackie and Geraghty acquit themselves honestly in a film that offers them little character arc or chance to become likeable. David Morse cameos as a colonel who compliments James on his bravery, and Ralph Fiennes as a British bounty hunter. The indistinguishable Arab actors just stare at the Americans.
Convincingly lensed in Jordan by cinematographer Barry Ackroyd in a classic actor's point-of-view documentary mode, the action scenes are shot through with raw tension, in 140 fast minutes and the quiet bits edited out.
Production company: Voltage Pictures, First Light, Kingsgate Films. Cast: Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty, Christian Camargo, Evangeline Lilly, Ralph Fiennes, David Morse, Guy Pearce. Director: Kathryn Bigelow. Screenwriters: Mark Boal. Executive producers: Tony Mark. Producer: Kathryn Bigelow, Mark Boal, Nicolas Chartier, Greg Shapiro. Director of photography: Barry Ackroyd. Production designer: Karl Juliusson. Music: Marco Beltrami. Costumes: George Little. Editor: Bob Murawski, Chris Innis. Sales Agent: Voltage Pictures, Los Angeles. 140 minutes.