[rating: 4/4]

Beneath the action blockbuster (cough “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen”) that graced the screen recently hides this mispackaged gem. Every piece of advertising I have seen on “The Hurt Locker” has pushed it as a war packed shoot’em up but this couldn’t be further from the truth. This film isn’t about explosions or tactics, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

“The Hurt Locker” stars Jeremy Renner and focuses on a small Explosive Ordnance Disposal team (EOD), whose job it is to diffuse bombs in Iraq. Yes, it does have its fair share of violence and explosions, but don’t be expecting a Schwarzenegger-style hero spouting off one-liners in between amazing feats of strength. Expect real people in real bad situations.

Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow
Written by: Mark Boal
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Ralph Fiennes
Running time: 131 mins
Rating: R
Seen at: Boston Common Loews

Renner plays William James, a staff sergeant who straps on his bomb suit at every opportunity. James is a bit unstable, but a good leader when he’s letting his adrenaline junkie side take the reins. His foil, and second-in-command, is the level headed Sergeant JT Sanborn played by Anthony Mackie. Sanborn certainly starts off as more of the hard-nosed solider type, but goes though some severe changes during the movie. That’s where this differs from other war movies. It doesn’t tell us that war changes people, but rather shows us.

It also shows that some men are just meant for war, and they take it differently. The richness and depth of these two characters is certainly the selling point of this film. You get dragged along their emotional gambit. You understand that Sanborn’s business-like approach is to shield himself and the others from the real horrors going on around them. You understand that James is an addict that has been changed into a walking casualty of war.

And while it is a war movie, it isn’t as preachy as one would expect. There is little to do with the traditional war themes, or even political themes. This film isn’t out to prove a point about the Iraq War, or any war for that matter. With just a little script editing, this film could easily be about the Gulf War or the Vietnam War. The setting is wonderful, and I commend them on actually going to the Jordon to get the true middle-east feel to it, but the story and characters are strong enough to survive on their own.

This movie is shot in a style very similar to a documentary, and it leads us to become more immersed in the world of this EOD team. With it’s over the shoulder shots and most of the focus being James, it almost feels as if this is being told in first person. By the time the bombs go off, the watcher is too far engrossed to be pulled away. The grit of the sand covers the actors, and the heat waves stand in the way of the camera lens. Never before have I seen a movie express heat so well, and it only furthers to pull you in.

There are bomb explosions and gunfire in the movie, but the scariest parts are when there isn’t an explosion on the screen. As James approaches each bomb, there is a feeling that this will be the last. Normally there is an unwritten rule that takes a lot of the tension out of movie: The main character can’t die until the end. This rule isn’t true here. There isn’t a safe moment. At no point did I feel as if any member of the EOD team was invulnerable. It leads to an incredible amount of stomach turning tension. When the realistic explosions finally do hit, that tension is released. You feel good that they succeeded or bad that failed.

This movie will undoubtedly be considered heavily for Oscar treatment, and it should. I tried to find faults to pick at, but those that were there were few and far between. It is a great action movie, yet still has both plot and heart. Director Kathryn Bigelow has made a magnificent must see film, and the best film about the Iraq War yet. Stylish, meaningful and gritty, this type of film that wins award, yet still has enough mainstream appeal to make its way out of the art houses and into the big screens nationwide.

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