by Rick Grant
Grade: A / Rated R / 131 min
War is hell, but for Army Specialist Staff Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner) war is a drug-an addictive adrenaline rush. James is a master bomb expert. He knows every detail of defusing bombs. He enjoys getting inside the mind of the bomber to find out his secrets. And, he loves his job.
In this penetrating scenario, written by Mark Boal and brilliantly directed by Kathryn Bigelow, the setting is Iraq in 2004. Bigelow brings the audience inside the action in a visceral way that exemplifies the danger our troops experience every day in Iraq or Afghanistan. IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) are killing American and Iraqi troops in large numbers. The Army sends in their best bomb specialist to save lives.
Enter Sgt. James to help eliminate the threat. James’ predecessor (Guy Pearce) was blown up, so his squad is nervous about the new guy’s presence. Right away, the squad notices that Sgt. James goes about his job his own way and not by the book, which exacerbates their fear that he could get them killed. They also notice that Sgt. James seems to love his job. Dressed in a bomb protection suit, James gets up close and personal with the bombs, taking great pleasure in defusing them. He seems oblivious to the danger.
In every situation in which Sgt. James finds himself, right in the middle of an IED kill zone, he is in full view of civilians on balconies, anyone of whom could be the bomber with a cell phone to detonate the bomb. James plays to them like they are his audience, showing them each step. Like a surgeon, he operates on the bombs, finding and pulling the detonators. His squad scan the area through the scopes of their M-4s for onlookers who are carrying cell phones that could trigger the bomb.
These IEDs are extremely powerful. They are constructed from two or more big artilery shells wired together for maximum impact. Just the massive concussion from one of these explosions is enough to kill James, even wearing his bomb suit if he’s close to the bomb.
But, James goes about his business with fascination, marveling at the ways some of the bombs are wired or hidden. In one scene, James takes a car apart to find the detonator like a man obsessed at finding the solution to a puzzle.
It comes out in the story that Sgt. James was an Army Ranger and sniper who has many combat skills. In an exciting combat sequence, the squad comes across some Australian special forces troops.
The squad and Australians come under sniper fire, and James helps his squad partner find the sniper using the awesome Barrett 50 cal semi-automatic sniper rifle. The team stays in place for hours to neutralize the other snipers.
Director Bigelow’s creative shots of visual drama, scene-craft, and Mark Boal’s masterfully written script, created an Oscar worthy film that will stand out in the viewers minds like the classic war films of the past such as Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now.
As the scenario progresses, the audience gets to know the highly defined characters in Sgt James squad. The other members of the squad develop a deep respect for Sgt. James’ mastery of bomb diffusion and his courage under fire.
This poorly marketed film is a must see for quality cinema devotees. It’s one of the best depictions of the horrors of war ever filmed. Indeed, it’s a classic war film. Some of the scenes are hard to watch, but they will stay with the viewer for a lifetime.
The Hurt Locker
by Rick Grant