Thursday, December 31, 2009

Film Review: THE HURT LOCKER (2009, Kathryn Bigelow)

Stars: 4.8 of 5.
Running Time: 131 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty, Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes, David Morse, Evangeline Lilly, Christian Camargo (DEXTER, K-19: THE WIDOWMAKER).
Tag-line: "You'll know when you're in it."
Best one-liner: "That's a good one. That's spoken like a wild man. That's good."

Kathryn Bigelow has built a career out of making immersive, visceral action films that try to duplicate the experience of the first-person adrenaline rush, whether it be through skydiving (POINT BREAK), watching someone else's memories (STRANGE DAYS), the dangerous thrill of joining up with vampires (NEAR DARK), or a rookie cop's first harrowing day on the job (BLUE STEEL). And because her movies are largely balls-to-the-wall potboilers, she has often found herself critically denigrated as existing only in the shadow of her ex-husband, James Cameron. Well, with THE HURT LOCKER, it appears that Bigelow has made a film that satisfies the arthouse palate and the shoot 'em up enthusiast alike (and one which quite cleverly bridges this gap by never overtly waxing political).

The film focuses on a bomb squad whose entire existence is perpetually a hair's breadth away from instantaneous, explosive, 'internal organs flying through the air' death. The trio of actors who bring them to life are Jeremy Renner (who seems destined for stardom- and is the spitting image of a young Rainer Werner Fassbinder!),

Renner vs....

...young Fassbinder in LOVE IS COLDER THAN DEATH.

Anthony Mackie (THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE remake, 8 MILE), and Brian Geraghty (JARHEAD, ART SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL). Their tangible camaraderie and incredible commitment bestow the narrative with a palpable spine. Renner's character embraces the raw power inherent in not giving a fuck about living or dying (see also: Terence Stamp in THE HIT), and it is a joy (albeit one on tenterhooks) to watch. The celebrity bit parts (Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes, David Morse) are notable because Bigelow doesn't give a shit that they're famous. They could deliver a few hilarious lines or they could die without fanfare and Bigelow is not going to kowtow to their fame by lingering. In fact, everything's handled with Jacques Becker-style restraint and attention to detail: the barracks mean boredom, faux-wood paneling, and cheap booze; the field means staring down the scope of a sniper rifle for three hours and taking a much-deserved sip of Capri Sun.

In short, it’s the best bomb disposal movie since THE SMALL BACK ROOM.

Side note: (And the best use of Ministry's music since that Labatt Maximum Ice HIGHLANDER 2 commercial with Michael Ironside back in '93.)

-Sean Gill

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