Almost unbearably tense thriller about an American bomb disposal unit during their last month or so in Baghdad, when a reckless new commander (Jeremy Renner) is called in to replace their beloved leader (Guy Pearce) who is killed in action.
An apolitical drama about Iraq in 2004, The Hurt Locker is hard to classify even as a war movie. Although there are a few scenes of soldier bonding and soldier resentment, this is primarily a you-are-there experience, with one taut, gripping set piece after another. This is a relentlessly suspenseful film, and Bigelow and her editors do a truly masterful job at keeping us on the edges of our seats.
The cast, namely Renner and his equally under-celebrated costar Anthony Mackie (as a by-the-books Army sergeant), contribute flawlessly realistic performances. Renner's character is an adrenaline junkie who thinks nothing about walking into a war zone to diffuse deadly IEDs, but the actor grounds him in reality. This is a far cry from Tom Cruise in Top Gun. He, Bigelow, and screenwriter Mark Boal understand that it takes a very particular sort of person to want to go into bomb disposal, and so the character feels as authentic as the film itself.
What surprised me most about The Hurt Locker is that, despite the thrills it provided during the two hours that I watched it, I've actually been thinking about it a lot afterward. It doesn't seem like the sort of film to give you much to think about, but it's so well made that it practically implants the memory of going to war into the viewer's head.
I highly recommend the film - even to those who, like me, dislike war movies for the same reason they dislike horror movies. (I'm glad to report that, despite the subject matter, there are no sudden loud noises designed to make you jump out of your seat. However, be warned that there is one distressingly gory scene involving a "body bomb".)