I am going to do my best to keep this review spoiler-free.
I like Kathryn Bigelow. I have always thought thather work had a seriously polished air about it. Her most notable works are POINT BREAK andSTRANGE DAYS. THE HURT LOCKER is a completedeparture from that type of film. THE HURTLOCKER "feels" like a low-budget, independentfilm, a quality that works in the film's favor becauseit is more of a study of the reality of war than acrafted effects extravaganza. The lingering,sun-scorched shots underscore thehopeless feelings that the soldiers have.
Staff Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner) is an explosives expert who is flanked by the stoic Sergeant Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and the unstable Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty). When James first arrives at Camp Victory and asks for help taking down a protective barrier on his barrack window so that he can see the sun, it is made apparent through the death metal and cigarette smoke in the air that James isn't really afraid of anything.
The rest of the film proceeds to emphasise James' (at times) reckless lack of fear. In his few seconds on film, David Morse as Colonel Reed marvels so much at James' attitude that it is unclear whether Reed wants to punch James out or buy him a drink.
James is seemingly reckless but extremely precise. His castration of lethal phallic explosives is fascinating to watch. On the surface he has no fear, but the camera does catch him as he buckles under the stress of war, bombs, and three hundred and sixty degrees of death.
The tension in this film is ratcheted up and sustained to the point of a total frazzling of the nerves. Every element in this film--bombs, interpersonal relationships and the environment(s)--contributes to the varying degrees of tension.
This is a film about war and the adrenaline addiction that goes with it. It nails the ambiguous notes of the Iraq war deftly, for example, it doesn't give you one obvious, crazy-mad-bomber-on-the-loose. The bomber could be anyone. In fact, one scene shows American bomb-making equipment in the hands of the enemy. The moral ambiguity of this war is presented with the face of Staff Sergeant William James, and that face is very near to cracking.
There are shades of APOCALYPSE NOW and PLATOON in this film, but they aren't overbearing. THE HURT LOCKER stands on its own. The simplistic technique lends to its authentic feeling. Cameos by Guy Pierce, Ralph Fiennes, and David Morse remind the viewer that this is indeed a Hollywood film. Such reminders are a relief because the story itself is so devastating. If you need a break from giant robots, bad comedy, or any of the other current ilk, this is the one to see.