Posted June 29, 2009 by William Dunmyer in Uncategorized

Hurt Locker: One of 2009’s Best Films

“The Hurt Locker” is a major artistic achievement from director Kathryn Bigelow and is one of the best war films of our time. It is a career-changing film for Bigelow, who has previously specialized in genre pictures. She has finally come into her own and revealed herself to be a filmmaker of uncommon power.

Equally impressive is the understated yet fierce acting, especially from Jeremy Renner and Brian Geraghty, who give breakthrough performances that deserve to be remembered at Oscar time. Anthony Mackie is also very good. Several well-known actors, including Ralph Fiennes, have brief cameos.

Let’s hope that Americans won’t overlook “Hurt Locker” the way they have ignored every other serious film about the Iraq War. But then again, this film is not about the Iraq War. It’s about warfare. It just happens to be set in Iraq.

Instead of focusing on big explosions and large combat sequences, “Hurt Locker” zooms in almost microscopically on a three-man unit that specializes in defusing bombs. Not only must these three young men deal on a daily basis with the danger of bombs, they are also under constant threat of sniper fire. The non-stop tension is maddening. I’ve never heard the phrase “hurt locker,” and it’s not explained in the film. But I suspect it refers to a dangerous situation where you are locked in on all sides. Checkmate, if you will.

Also caught in this hurt locker are the countless innocent civilians trying to live their lives in peace. One’s heart especially goes out to the children. Bigelow does a wonderful job capturing the vulnerability of children by introducing us to a boy who sells DVDs to American soldiers. This boy (played beautifully by Christopher Sayegh) has a dazzling personality and befriends Renner’s character. When the boy is the victim of an unspeakable atrocity, the tragedy of war is exposed most heart-wrenchingly.

Renner’s character, William James, is the sole member of the three-man unit who defuses explosives. The other two guard him from sniper fire and perform various other essential functions. James is a unique character, to say the least. He at times doesn’t seem aware of the danger he is facing, walking almost blithely into an area littered with explosives. Sometimes he throws off his protective gear if it is getting in the way. James also has an uncanny instinct for bombs. Watching him locate and defuse an explosive is like watching an artist at work. All of the devices are slightly different, so he has to study them with care. He doesn’t wear gloves when he touches them, apparently to get a better feel for them. He touches a live bomb almost with awe.

When James joins the unit, he is initially perceived as reckless, which makes him highly unpopular. But the relationship between the three men evolves over the course of the film in interesting ways.

I hope Kathryn Bigelow sticks with serious films for the rest of her career. There is no reason a filmmaker of her stature and talent needs to be churning out mindless product for the studios. Please, Ms. Bigelow, stick with work like “Hurt Locker,” work that will live forever.

William Dunmyer

William Dunmyer is a lifelong cinephile who fell in love with movies at about the age of 5. He lives in New York City.