Happy 4th, everyone. Hope everyone is having a great holiday weekend.
So in honor of Independence Day, I've got a special movie review for you - for a film that is not only ultra-appropriate, given the holiday, but is in and of itself among the best movies of the year thus far, and perhaps will even top many year-end best-of lists when all is said and done. With that said ...
THE HURT LOCKER Review:
- If nothing else, The Hurt Locker is one intense movie. Everything is life or death. Cut the wire. And cut the tension with a knife. Because man, The Hurt Locker is balls-to-the-wall filmmaking. Gritty, poignant, epic, and brutal all in one, Katherine Bigelow's latest movie may just be the best film of 2009 thus far. In short: go see this one - now.
The Hurt Locker is a movie about the Iraq War, but it's not really a political movie. What it is is an edge-of-your-seat thriller. What it is is a character study. It's a look at the men who choose to serve as part of a volunteer army, who choose to put their lives on the line in order to serve their country in a time of war. These men and women get shipped out to places that can best be described as "hell on earth", and yet, they go to these places of their own volition. Some, as we see in the movie, even end up going back for seconds. The Hurt Locker is a movie that makes you think about the very nature of war and of soldiers. Why do we fight, and what compels us to surround ourselves with violence? Is war a drug? Is violence and danger an addiction? If so, what kind of person succumbs to it, and is that person crazy, or is that risktaker mentality the only sane response to an insane world?
Katherine Bigelow has dabbled before in the arena of posing philisophical questions in the context of action movies. Point Break, anyone? But while Point Break is a campy and fun cult favorite, The Hurt Locker is Bigelow's true masterpiece. A painstakingly detailed and affecting drama that looks at the lives of soldiers - and not just any soldiers, but those who diffuse bombs for a living - and examines what makes these people tick, so to speak. It's hard from clips and previews alone to tell exactly what to expect in the film, but the truth is this: The Hurt Locker is an absolute must-see.
But this isn't just a philisophical excercise, oh no. The action and overall intensity of the movie is plain and simply off the chain. One scene after another had me biting my nails and clamming up with anticipation for what might happen next. In particular, there is a sniper gun-fight that basically bleeds intensity. But there are also several scenes in which bombs are being diffused that put most generic TV show scenes of the red-wire-or-green-wire variety to shame. This is the real deal. Give a ton of credit to Bigelow and her team - the direction is gritty and has a you-are-there immediacy, but doesn't fall prey to the quick cuts and ADD sloppiness of certain other directors who pride themselves on being action flick masters (cough*Bay*cough). Instead, the film mixes a "reportorial" / journalistic style with maximum-intensity, visceral combat scenes that don't just blow things up for the hell of it, but use the action to tell a story, and to give real insight into the characters.
The direction is superb, but I also give credit to the script. Like the direction, the script is gritty and feels totally authentic. It's not melodramatic, but there is melodrama beneath the surface. But what really impressed me about the script was its structure - each and every scene feels vitally important to the characters' journey, and what ends up on screen is a vibrant tapestry of individual scenes that paint a startling picture of the war in Iraq and the soldiers who fight it. The movie is structured in a way that hits you hard from moment one and never lets up. Immediately, the opening scene is packed with tension, as a squad leader, played by Guy Pierce, dons the astronaut-like safety suit of the bomb squad and goes into action in a packed Iraqi street. Without revealing what happens, Bigelow and co. quickly establish that this is high stakes stuff, life and death at every turn, and that as far as this movie goes, anything can happen - all bets, as they say, are off. Same goes for the ending. Again, without revealing anything, this movie had one of the hardest-hitting endings I've seen in a while. The build-up to it was near-perfect, and like all great endings, it put the rest of the film into a whole new perspective.
Incredible direction, an outstanding script ... I also need to talk about the completely killer cast. Firstly, Jeremy Renner is amazing in this film. As William James, Renner is both a likable average Joe but also a potentially dangerous and slightly off-kilter daredevil. Renner plays a character that is infinitely complex but endlessly fascinating - a brilliant bomb-diffuser who both loathes and lives for the hell of war and the thrill of danger. The movie follows his journey, and Renner takes us along for the ride, as we hang on his every emotion, conflict, victory, and loss. This is Best Actor material, easily, and I have no doubt Renner will soon be in many, many more big movies in the near future. But Anthonie Mackie is similarly superb as Sgt. Sanborn, James' right-hand-man who is on one hand quite the badass but on the other hand, a guy who has slowly been broken down by years of combat. Whereas James is cavalier at times, Sanborn is simply ruthlessly efficient. The wildcard is Brian Geraghty as Eldridge, the youngest member of the bomb squad and the one most likely to truly crack under the pressure. Eldridge has regular chats with an army psychologist, in a great turn from Christian Camargo, and through their talks you can't help but think of all of the young soldiers who are out there right now in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. You can listen to Iron Maiden, play Gears of War, pump yourself up and get jacked up, but when every day you're in the warzone, you've got to wonder how these guys keep it together. Eldridge is that young soldier - whereas James and Sanborn are somewhat veteran badasses, Eldridge is the guy who, like most of us, may simply not be able to take the heat. Aside from the principal actors, The Hurt Locker has some very notable cameos. Guy Pierce is great in his scenes at the beginning of the film. Ralph Fiennes is also pretty awesome as a terrorist-hunting, mercenary leader whose team encounters James and Sanborn in the Iraqi desert. David Morse has some great dialogue in his scenes as an army Colonel. And hey, Evangeline Lilly of Lost even appears in a couple of quick scenes as Renner's holdin'-down-the-homefront wife.
In the end, I can't recommend The Hurt Locker enough. It has hard-hitting action that is some of the most entertainingly intense that you will find, even in a summer overflowing with big-budget blockbusters. But more than that, it's a character study and a drama that leaves a mark on your psyche. This movie left me and a packed audience at the Arclight staring at the screen in stunned silence as the credits rolled. We were, I think, quite simply floored by what we had just witnessed. And I say witnessed because the movie has that you-are-there quality that is like a punch to the gut. Intense. Epic. Memorable. This is a stunner.
My Grade: A
- Okay, once again, Happy 4th of July and stay tuned for more, coming soon!