Jeremy Renner first made an indelible impression on me when he played Jeffrey Dahmer in the film Dahmer. His boyish face belies the simmering intensity he can produce onscreen. Sure, that’s a hackneyed way to describe it, but the reality is just that. He gets you with those baby blues. Here, in 2004 Baghdad, Renner plays a bomb defusing technician whose job is tense even when performed with maximum caution. Renner’s character does not bother with such things — he prefers to rock and roll and git ‘er done, and it becomes gradually evident that he is past being just a hotshot, past being an adrenaline junkie. He’s a pusher.
Renner’s character is a crazy dude, but what director Kathryn Bigelow does is ramp up our awareness of the insanity of these soldiers’ situation until Renner’s approach seems almost reasonable. The tactical and practical realities they have to deal with are vivid reminders of what is still happening out there, five years later. Bigelow directed the loathsome Strange Days, but I’ll say this for her there as well as here: she does not shy away from the ugly side of people and their capacity for cruelty or dismissing of their fellow man.
Renner’s bomb squad is comprised of Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty. These two men are nearing the end of their tour when they lose their third man (the blaster); tension is high and Renner’s methods don’t make things any easier. These guys run missions with intensity, while Iraqi life continues all around them, as if to mock their efforts — children run about and get in the way of a patrol, kites fly, women shuffle veiled through the market — it’s bananas. Despite Renner and some other familiar faces peppering the cast (Guy Pearce, David Morse, Ralph Fiennes), I found it difficult at times to remember that these men are actors. The tension is pulled to just the right tautness to be sustained over time without having to defuse it with a narrative break. And the acting is great.
So, OK, we have a war movie, with danger, tension, great performances, a pretty heavy throughline of Renner’s need for hard core everything — but, as my friend pointed out, no Message. Sure, war is hell, even the hawks will tell you that, but these guys aren’t thinking about politics or parties or re-elections. They have missions that keep their soldiers and civilians from being blown up, and any day could be their last. Their whole world is focused on that pinpoint. War is hell, war is a drug, war is not what the suits think it is when they deploy tanks and battleships. It’s very, very personal. The Hurt Locker is excellent, I hope everyone checks it out and rewards the studios for this great production.
MPAA Rating R – violence and pervasive language.
Release date 7/10/09
Time in minutes 131
Director Kathryn Bigelow
Studio Summit Entertainment