People Tell Me I Look Like Han Solo.
Thursday, August 6, 2009
  See This Movie: The Hurt Locker
I have seen the best movie of the summer, dear reader, and it is The Hurt Locker.

It almost seems unfair to lump The Hurt Locker in with the typical “summer movies,” as I’m confident it will hold up against the year’s most prestigious of the Oscar-baiting prestige films (which don’t come out until late in the year); comparing The Hurt Locker to, say, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen or Star Trek is like comparing a steak dinner to a bag of popcorn (in the case of Star Trek, fancy, delicious popcorn…but it’s still popcorn). It’s a best-film-of-the-year candidate that just happened to get a release in the summer.

The Hurt Locker is a tense thriller about a U.S. Army bomb disposal unit in Iraq, but it’s not really an Iraq War Movie. It doesn’t really bother with big statements about the war itself, aside from making observations about the nature of war and what it does to the people who fight it. It was written by freelance journalist Mark Boal, who penned the screenplay after spending time embedded with an actual bomb squad, so it really takes a soldier’s-eye-view of things; Boal and director Kathryn Bigelow are clearly more interested in the characters and what makes them tick than they are in any broad political statements about the war in Iraq.

I’ve heard The Hurt Locker called an action film (it’s in a quote right there on the poster), and I guess it sort of is – it’s rare enough that a movie pins me to my seat with this sort of intensity just once, but The Hurt Locker did it to me three or four times – but there aren’t really any traditional “action sequences.” The performances are so good and the movie gets its message across so powerfully (and without being heavy-handed about it) that it deserves Oscar attention. Jeremy Renner, who impressed me with his relatively small role in 28 Weeks Later, is amazing as the reckless new leader of a three-man bomb squad, and Anthony Mackie (who blew me away in the indie drama Half Nelson) is just as good as a combat-weary soldier who just wants to make it through the few weeks left in his rotation. That the new leader of his team seems to be trying to get himself and the rest of them blown to hell provides natural tension, and seeing two great young actors going head-to-head is a treat.

But the thing that drew me to The Hurt Locker, and the thing that ultimately made it for me, was Kathryn Bigelow. I love the fact that one of the best action filmmakers is a woman; though The Hurt Locker is her first feature since 2002’s submarine thriller K-19: The Widowmaker (which I never did see), she’s helmed two of my all-time favorite movies, Point Break (in my personal Top 5, easy) and Near Dark (the best vampire movie ever, for my money), as well as the underrated sci-fi thriller Strange Days. I don’t know why Bigelow doesn’t work more, but it’s almost criminal that her films are as few and far between as they have been in the past decade and change. (Though she was the protégé – and, briefly, the wife – of James Cameron, and he’s hardly the most prolific director going.) I was excited enough about a new Kathryn Bigelow movie, but The Hurt Locker exceeded even my sky-high expectations. Even if a movie about soldiers in Iraq doesn’t seem like your thing (and it really isn’t mine), I can’t recommend The Hurt Locker enough.

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