Tick, tick, tick …

Bomb-defusing in Iraq is point of focus in The Hurt Locker.

The Hurt Locker Directed by Kathryn Bigelow. Starring Jeremy Renner. Paradise Cinema 7. Rated R.
Rated 5.0

Kathryn Bigelow’s much-anticipated movie about bomb-defusers in the war in Iraq succeeds brilliantly on a number of counts—as a suspenseful action movie, as a bristlingly pungent character study and as an ironic war epic loaded with dramatic paradoxes.

Filmed almost entirely on location in Jordan and Kuwait, the picture is a thoroughly fascinating mixture of generic war movie with a quasi-documentary portrayal of a distinctive kind of modern warrior in this particular war, with some of its unique demands and baffling circumstances held in sharp focus.

Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal don’t take any particular stand on the history and politics of the war, but their portrayals of Staff Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner) and his bomb-disposal unit provide a good many telling glimpses of the terrible and sometimes tragic paradoxes of combat in Iraq.

Renner is superb in the central role, a grimly heroic figure just a click or two away from madness, and his mixture of daring and desperation is right at the heart of the film’s most intriguing implications.

And action and drama alike are well-served by a strong, shrewdly deployed supporting cast—Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty as the other guys in James’ unit, Guy Pearce as his predecessor, David Morse as an antic, half-cracked colonel and Ralph Fiennes as the leader of a group of “contractors” the unit encounters in the course of a half-botched mission.

Neither celebration nor exposé, The Hurt Locker is a powerful and unusually engrossing action drama, and it’s distinguished by kinds of honesty and intelligence that are very rare in action movies and war films of this or any other era.