I put The Hurt Locker (2008) on my to-watch list as soon as I learned Jeremy Renner had been cast as Hawkeye in The Avengers. Hey, I wanted to get a look at this guy who was going to play my favorite superhero. As it turns out, I never got around to it, and what do you know, it was seeing The Avengers that finally got me to put The Hurt Locker at the top of the queue.
The Hurt Locker is a heart-stoppingly suspenseful war drama set in Iraq, about a three-man team in Baghdad that specializes in disarming and disposing of explosives. Experienced veteran Sergeant First Class Will James (Renner) reports to take over a team with Sergeant J.T. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty). At first, James’ reckless nature causes strife in the unit, but eventually the more circumspect subordinates gain a grudging respect for their team leader, whose fearlessness helps them learn to cope with the job’s many crisis situations. Even so, James’ adrenaline addiction constantly threatens to carry the group into potentially deadly situations as the final days of their tour slowly, slowly wind down.
I really do think this is one of the most suspenseful films ever, with one taut, nerve-wracking setpiece after another, and it makes for a harrowing viewing experience. Director Kathryn Bigelow keeps the action tense and realistic. Renner, Mackie, and Geraghty are all terrific, quite convincingly selling the utter anxiousness of their work and the contentious camaraderie of their unit. The film’s point, perhaps, is over-made in the final act, but overall it’s a breathtaking gut-punch of a film, examining the psychological consequences of extended exposure to war. Highly recommended.