Like every war before it, the U.S. invasion of Iraq has generated its share of movies. âThe Hurt Lockerâ is the first of them that can properly be called a masterpiece.
Working from a screenplay by Mark Boal (based on his experiences as an embedded journalist with U.S. troops), director Kathryn Bigelow accomplishes two difficult things: She crafts a taut and harrowing movie in which the suspense level rarely dips below excruciating, and she delivers an exceptionally detailed, first-hand account of the day-to-day existence of U.S. soldiers, the way âPlatoonâ did for Vietnam or âSaving Private Ryanâ did for World War II.
âThe Hurt Lockerâ is good enough to stand alongside those two hallowed classics, although it might initially seem too small and specific to merit such comparisons. âPlatoonâ and âRyanâ were designed to be broad summations of their respective wars, writ large, with the benefit of years of hindsight and reflection.
âThe Hurt Locker,â shot on grainy 16mm film with handheld cameras, is more urgent and of the moment. The movie does not concern itself with grand, sweeping statements or panoramic views of the Iraq conflict â does not concern itself with anything beyond its three protagonists, soldiers with one of the most dangerous jobs the Army has to offer.
They are a bomb-defusing squad led by Staff Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner), who dons protective gear and figures out, patiently and curiously, how to disarm explosive devices meant to kill Americans. Heâs backed by Sgt. J.T. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty), who stand guard while James dismantles the bombs. James takes to his job with a recklessness many would interpret as suicidal, and performs it with surgical precision.
The plot details the ups and downs of the bond among the soldiers as they carry out their tour of duty in 2004 Baghdad. But the movie is mainly comprised of one large set piece after another: booby-trapped car; a bomb hidden in a pile of trash; a man with explosives strapped to his waist, begging for someone to remove them before they go off.
Bigelow (âPoint Break,â âStrange Days,â âNear Darkâ), an expert at large-scale kinetic filmmaking and the exploration of the psyches of men under duress, has never had a script so tailor-made to her strengths. Every one of the big sequences in âThe Hurt Lockerâ â some of them stretch for more than 15 minutes â is a sensational, nerve-racking exercise in suspense and action.
Bigelow knows exactly where to place her cameras and how to edit her shots so the viewer always understands where the threat to the characters is coming from and where they stand in relation to each other. Her style is the antithesis of the incomprehensible eye candy of âTransformers.â The spatiality is so clearly defined that some sequences build up an almost intolerable level of anxiety.
That is the point of âThe Hurt Locker,â which eschews commentary on the politics of the Iraq war in favor of acts and deeds of insane heroism and bravery. This is not just a great war film â itâs a great movie, period. The fact that the subject matter happens to be grave and timely is a bonus.