Blown away by Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker again

Director Kathryn Bigelow’s stunning Oscar-winning war drama THE HURT LOCKER delivers every time you watch it.

I saw THE HURT LOCKER when it was released. I’ve got the DVD and have watched it a bunch of times. But I found myself sitting in front of the TV to watch its recent network premiere and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

There have been blowbacks from the Oscars in recent years – pictures (or actors) winning that have then been the subject of articles that seem to either trash or bring into question why the award was given in the first place. Apart from, I think, an article from a marine that said Sgt James was modelled on him, there have been no such instances for this movie that quite rightly took away six golden statues in 2010 – with the exception of Barry Ackroyd‘s phenomenal cinematography and Jeremy Renner’s riveting central performance, that was also nominated. ‘You’ll know it when you’re in it’ said the film’s tagline and what you went into was a blistering two hours and 11 minutes showing the hell of modern-day warfare – the hard choices, confusion, camaraderie, loss, pain, even elation. What a journey.

Jeremy Renner as Staff Sergeant William James in The Hurt Locker

Jeremy Renner as Staff Sergeant William James

Every once in a while you see a performance that truly stands out and makes you sit up and go wow. This was one of those times with Jeremy Renner – an actor whose performances from Dahmer to Take, to The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, have always drawn you in but who here was allowed the centre stage to portray a fascinatingly conflicted and enigmatic character – a man driven to help people by a strange job, that’s the only thing anymore that makes him feel alive. Combining a physical power, with tenderness at the core, it’s a great portrayal and one that made people take notice.

I read once that Bigelow had seen his electric performance as Jeffrey Dahmer in the 2002 movie and remembered it and then six years later called him up, as she felt he was the one to play Sgt James. One of those cool anecdotes that whether its true or just good copy, is a great story. The Mission: Impossible and Bourne franchises look exciting prospects for the future with him on board.

David Morse as Colonel Reed questions Jeremy Renner's Sgt James in The Hurt Locker

David Morse as Colonel Reed questions Renner’s Sgt James

Mention should also go to Brian Geraghty and Anthony Mackie as Eldridge and Sanborn respectively, for their superb performances. Geraghty, so great in Sam Mendes’ Jarhead and Mackie, whose work in pictures like Half Nelson has always been brilliant. The scene near the end of the movie between James and Sanborn, when the latter is on the edge of breaking down is a fantastic moment. In other supporting roles, Guy Pearce and David Morse make memorable contributions and there’s also a super cameo from Bigelow’s old Strange Days star Ralph Fiennes.

Mark Boal‘s script, cutting to the heart of a nightmare but with really brilliant touches of humour in places deservedly also won awards. A great example is a key scene when Morse’s Colonel Reed asks Renner,

“What’s the best way to dismantle one of these things?

The way you don’t die, sir”

And then there’s Kathryn Bigelow, whose achievement in direction was vastly and rightly honoured. Some would think for a woman to direct a hard-as-nails war story like this would be strange but she’s shown herself to be an artist of multiple genres in the past – moving between cop buddy action thriller, prophetic future vision, vampire drama and historical re-enactment. It didn’t feel like this was just another exploration of a familiar genre though. You can feel the passion and commitment to this story and these men in the fabric of every shot, every scene. I think she’ll make many other startling films but this will be the film she’ll be remembered for.

If you haven’t been inside THE HURT LOCKER yet, it’s time you were.