Perhaps it's too early to be talking about Oscars but, at this point, Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker absolutely belongs in the mix. There's more tension in this gripping tale than in the waistband of Oprah's skinny jeans -- which is pretty freakin' tense.
A bomb-squad thriller about an adrenaline junkie who gets his kicks disarming improvised explosive devices (known in the jargon as IEDs), The Hurt Locker brings it right to the viewer without pandering to him. It's an intense tale of men facing death at any moment, relying on their wits, their will and their skill to get them out alive.
Much already has been made of the fact that this is an expertly made film whose commercial fate is fraught with as much suspense as its action sequences, which will have you chewing your fingernails frantically. It seems cruel to suggest that it might face the same sorry commercial fate as such deserving films as In the Valley of Elah, A Mighty Heart and Lions for Lambs, simply because it too is set in the midst of the Iraq war.
Directed by Bigelow from a script by Mark Boal, the film stars Jeremy Renner as Sgt. Will James, who is brought in to head up the EOD unit after its commander is blown up in a street bombing. The other members of the squad, Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Eldridge (Brian Geraghty), have a little more than a month left in-country and their first impression of their new commander is an alarming one.
They've been trained to follow a step-by-step protocol that maximizes their safety, beginning with a rolling robot-cam to give them a close-up of the explosive from a safe distance. So they watch in horror as James jumps in feet-first as it were.
Rather than donning the bomb-protection suit as a last resort after first assessing all options, he skips the robot-cam altogether, slips into the padded suit and strides off to find the bomb himself. He grabs and snips wires, handles blasting caps -- in other words, he goes total gonzo cowboy, all but juggling the bombs as he tracks wires and disarms an octopus-like series of explosives.
As he says to Sanborn and Eldridge afterwards, what fun is the job if you play it safe? How do you know you're alive unless you confront death and walk away still breathing?
The credo of the extreme-action type: James makes it clear that he lives for those moments when it can all go either way without warning. But his squad mates just want to go home -- alive, not in a box.
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