Movie Review

The Hurt Locker

You'll know when you're in it.
The Hurt Locker Movie Poster

US Release Date: 06-26-2009

Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow


  • Jeremy Renner
  • SSgt. William James
  • Anthony Mackie
  • Sgt. JT Sanborn
  • Brian Geraghty
  • Spc. Owen Eldridge
  • Guy Pearce
  • Sgt. Matt Thompson
  • Ralph Fiennes
  • Contractor Team Leader
  • David Morse
  • Colonel Reed
  • Evangeline Lilly
  • Connie James
  • Christian Camargo
  • Col. John Cambridge
  • Suhail Aldabbach
  • Black Suit Man
  • Christopher Sayegh
  • Beckham
Average Stars:
Reviewed on: December 3rd, 2009
Jeremy Renner stars as Sgt. William James in what could be a breakthrough performance.

Jeremy Renner stars as Sgt. William James in what could be a breakthrough performance.

Wow, a war movie about Iraq that not only doesn't suck, but is actually one of the best movies of the year. Even more surprising for a war movie out of Hollywood, American Soldiers are the good guys. The secret to this movie's success (I mean besides the fact that it's so well made) is that it isn't trying to preach or push any kind of agenda (either Left or Right). Instead, it's just trying to be all it can be.

The plot is very simple. It follows a three man IED (Improvised Explosive Devices) squad in Iraq in 2004 through a series of missions which together form a rough plot, but it's more about the characters and individual situations than an over-arching story. It's the IED Squad's job to (as their name implies) disarm improvised explosives; devices which are the most common cause of death amongst U.S. Soldiers and Iraqi civilians alike.

Three distinctly different characters make up the squad. Jeremy Renner has the showiest role as Sgt. James. He's a wild card and seemingly without fear. He's disarmed almost 900 devices; from which he has kept many souvenirs that he keeps under his bed in a locker (hence the film's title). Sgt. Sanborn (Mackie) is the squad's everyman. He's the soldier that's just doing his job and in many ways he's the glue that holds the unit together. Lastly, there's the most cliched member of the squad; Spc. Eldridge. Eldridge is the young, inexperienced soldier who is led by the older men in the squad. It's Eldridge's inexperience that gets the story going.

Filmed so that it feels like a documentary, the movie feels realistic. Of course it's still a movie so it's not truly realistic at all, but hyper-realistic instead, but it feels real, like what we think it would be like, although they do seem to get the details right. In any case, the style works, especially during the defusing scenes which are tense and nerve-wracking. This might sound sexist, but the fact that such a good war movie was directed by a woman surprised me. There's only a couple of women in the film and none of them are leading characters. Kathryn Bigelow deserves a best director nomination.

The cast is superb. The three main characters are played by fairly unknown actors (although you may recognize Renner from some small things he's done), but several of the supporting parts are played by well known actors including Ralph Fiennes and Guy Pearce. This could well prove to be Renner's breakthrough performance.

I've avoided seeing almost every movie Hollywood has put out about the Iraq war because most of them have just seemed like boring, preachy lectures against the war. Who the hell wants to pay money to see that? I had mistakenly lumped this movie into that same category and it wasn't until it started generating Oscar buzz that I decided to give it a try. I'm very glad I did. Now that the Academy has decided to include 10 Best Picture Nominees, I'm quite certain this will be one of them, and deservedly so.

Reviewed on: January 13th, 2010
Anthony Mackie and Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker

Anthony Mackie and Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker

Other than one use of the politically correct term "insurgent" instead of "terrorist," this movie is nearly a-political. They never even say what country they are in, or why they are there. The Hurt Locker walks a fine line, and displays one of the finest performances of the year.

As a "war" movie, The Hurt Locker is an entertaining film. The bomb defusing scenes keep you glued to your seat. I am in awe that men actually do this type of work. The most intense action sequence was when they are in the desert with Ralph Fiennes, and are being attacked by the snipers. The enemy are distant shapes that they know they have to kill, before they kill them. There is no flag waving, just kill or be killed.

SSGT James is a very interesting character. His men think of him as reckless. Eldridge says that he is an adrenaline junky. He shows little emotion when they disagree with his actions. He understands why Sanborn slugs him, and just laughs it off. Even when goofing around on base, he does not let them get the best of him.

When his men are not around, he becomes human. Whether staring at his trophies or spending a few minutes with a local kid, he reveals a real person underneath his professional shell. His ability to compartmentalize his job will likely keep him sane after the war. If he lives long enough to see it?

Although the movie plays out in a series of events, it has a story arc. James is at first shown keeping an emotional distance from everyone. When he decides to invite the kid, even slightly, into his life, it causes problems that affect him, and his men. It reinforces his need to emotionally shut himself off from others.

In a brief scene, James is shown at home with his wife(ex) making dinner and putting his infant son to bed. No doubt, he loves them both, but it is mundane. He seems bored in those scenes. It is an routine done by millions of men all over the world. As a soldier, he lives a life most of them will just read about. His job is on the edge. He is more alive when death is near.

It makes sense that a woman directed this movie. They are often more inclined to explore what is in a person's heart, than a man. The Hurt Locker takes us inside James's emotional center. Whether crying in the shower or putting on a brave face, Kathryn Bigelow shows us a man on several levels. I am not sure a male director would have done it is as well.

This movie was not a big financial hit. Because of that, it is unclear how it will affect Jeremy Renner's career. He should definitely be acknowledge for his subdued acting. He keeps it real, by never overplaying a scene. It is a great understated performance, and I hope his name is on Oscar's list.

Reviewed on: January 17th, 2010
Stars do not live long in this movie.

Stars do not live long in this movie.

I predict The Hurt Locker will walk away with the Best Picture Oscar and will make Kathryn Bigelow the first woman to win the Best Director statuette. Yes, it is a hard-hitting, realistic look at modern warfare. I agree with my brothers except for one detail. I hate - I repeat - HATE the use of jerky handheld camera movement and super-fast editing. It nearly ruins several of the action scenes for me. I realize she was trying to give the movie the gritty “you are there” documentary feeling. But if that was the case then she should have had a documentary filmmaker included in the movie so that it makes sense. In my opinion the best camera technique is when the audience forgets they are looking through the eye of one. If you are going to constantly draw attention to the fact that we are viewing a world through a lens then it should make sense in the context of the story. OK, I’m off my soapbox now. Other than that The Hurt Locker is a brilliant and emotionally powerful war flick.

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