The Iraq War has yielded a number of strong documentaries that tackle the topic both directly (Iraq for Sale, Iraq in Fragments and No End in Sight) and indirectly (Heavy Metal in Baghdad, Standard Operating Procedure and Why We Fight). Successful fictional features, on the other hand, have been few and far between. Until now.
Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker jettisons the contentious politics, clichéd caricatures (Redacted, anyone?) and/or post-deployment home-front dramatics that have hampered previous Iraq-themed movies in favor of a more visceral approach. Viewers are thrown into the fray from the get-go, as we follow the exploits of Bravo Company — a trio (played by Anthony Mackie, Jeremy Renner and Brian Geraghty, all excellent) of U.S. specialists who disarm roadside bombs (or IEDs) in Baghdad — from one dangerous, tension-riddled mission to the next.
Based on the first-hand reporting of journalist and screenwriter Mark Boal, The Hurt Locker is an unrelenting, impressively self-contained pressure cooker that feels both deeply authentic and appropriately unsettling. Bigelow — whose past credits include Near Dark (1987), Point Break and the vastly underrated Strange Days (1995) — is at the top of her game here, employing a subtle directorial touch to material that could easily descend into heavy-handed war-movie cliché.
Barry Ackroyd’s immersive, largely handheld camera work rarely calls attention to itself, capturing Baghdad’s dusty, sun-baked environs with an understated grace that gives the bursts of violence even more force. And, in a curious and oddly effective move, Bigelow keeps viewers off balance by using the film’s most familiar faces (Ralph Fiennes, David Morse and Guy Pearce) to make a point about the fleeting, unpredictability nature of war.
Armed with its succinct, no-bullshit narrative, Bigelow’s assured hand and an excellent cast (Renner is especially potent as the unit’s loose-cannon leader), The Hurt Locker shows how war inevitably, and often irreversibly, transforms those within its midst. Grade: A
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