It would be a mistake to call The Hurt Locker the most intense movie I have ever seen in the the theater. While true, this doesn’t communicate the complicated personal story being told. The movie follows an Army bomb removal squad in Baghdad in 2004. Staff Sergeant William James, played by Jeremy Renner, is almost pathologically addicted to risk. As the new bomb tech in the squad, he is incredibly skilled and reckless. As the commanding officer in the unit, he has the authority to make incredibly dangerous decisions. The squad is rounded out by Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty, as Sergeant JT Sanborn and Specialist Owen Eldridge, respectively. Both of these actors do a fine job with characters that seem less complicated because they are missing that huge flaw. Mackie and Geraghty resist the urge to play it big and melodramatic, bringing a humanity to the hell.
The most obvious area where this movie excels is in the combat. Bigelow treats every encounter with a bomb as a battle. On the one side is the army. On the opposition is the insurgency. But how do you fight an enemy which looks like, and has learned to act like, the innocent population? This question leads to some of the most intense scenes in the film.
Katherine Bigelow has created a truly economic film about the physical and psychic risk that soldiers encounter. There are only a handful of scenes that do not relate to specific missions. These scenes help ground the characters and show the audience how untethered they have become.
As a balls to the wall action movie, The Hurt Locker is a failure, but as a highly charged character study, it is a complete success. I can’t help but recommend this one.