If you’re looking for ferocious, visceral suspense, director Kathryn Bigelow delivers with this graphic, subversive portrait of courage under fire, focusing on the Bravo Company technicians of the elite U.S Explosive Ordinance Disposal unit, dismantling bombs in one of the world’s most dangerous places – Iraq.
In the opening combat sequence, a three-man squad loses their cautious commander, Sgt. Matt Thompson (Guy Pearce), as he’s trying to detonate a street bomb. Arriving to take his place is cocky Staff Sgt. Will James (Jeremy Renner) whose fearlessness – or is it recklessness? – stuns and frightens his men: Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Eldridge (Brian Geraghy), who have only 38 days left in their tour of duty. In one mission, James removes his bulky protective suit to disarm a car that’s rigged with explosives. In another, he tries to help a frightened man remove a bomb harness that’s been locked to his body – with the timer ticking. And as James, Sanborn and Eldridge ride around Baghdad in their Humvee, the atmosphere becomes increasingly dangerous.
Kathryn Bigelow (“Point Break,” “Blue Steel,” “Strange Days”) and journalist-turned-screenwriter Mark Boal (who was embedded with a bomb squad in Baghdad in 2004) begin with a quote from journalist Chris Hedges to the effect that “war is a drug, a potent and often lethal addiction.” That’s the theme they, along with cinematographer Barry Ackroyd and editors Chris Innis and Bob Murawski, single-mindedly pursue, showing little inclination to explore any in-depth psychological analysis, which is particularly evident as an Army psychologist (Christian Camargo) resorts to glib, perfunctory platitudes when counseling terrified Eldridge. Utilizing handheld cameras, rapid pacing and striking sound effects, the testosterone-drenched, nerve-wracking action is undeniably riveting.
After its premiere at the 2008 Venice Film Festival, word-of-mouth has been gathering momentum and this drama can, perhaps, overcome the Iraq-war stigma that sunk Brian De Palma’s “Redacted” and Kimberly Peirce’s “Stop Loss,” among others. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Hurt Locker” is a tension-taut 8, as adrenaline junkies get high on danger.