Movie Review - 'The Hurt Locker': An Explosive Look At The Iraq War The adrenaline rush of war is front and center in Kathryn Bigelow's film — the first war movie in a while that feels as if it could have starred John Wayne. (Recommended)
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'Hurt Locker': An Explosive Look At The Iraq War

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'Hurt Locker': An Explosive Look At The Iraq War

Review

Movies

'Hurt Locker': An Explosive Look At The Iraq War

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

Several years ago, the journalist Mark Boal was embedded with a bomb squad while covering American troops in Iraq. That experience led him to write the screenplay for the new war movie "The Hurt Locker." It follows a bomb squad on its daily rounds. Our critic Bob Mondello says it follows a little closer than some moviegoers might find comfortable.

BOB MONDELLO: There's nothing quite like blowing up a major star in the first five minutes of a movie to put an audience on notice - I won't tell you who. Suffice it to say he seems to be being cautious, first using a radio-controlled robot to explode a bomb half a block away - and then, when the robot gets stuck, donning a bulky protective suit and helmet that make him look like a deep sea diver.

(Soundbite of film, "The Hurt Locker")

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As character) Nice and hot in here.

MONDELLO: All, as it happens, for naught.

(Soundbite of film, "The Hurt Locker")

Unidentified Man #1: (As character) Laying on the charge nice and sweet. I'm coming back.

MONDELLO: His men warily watch the locals, looking for triggering devices, and when he's still much too close, they spot one.

(Soundbite of film, "The Hurt Locker")

Unidentified Man #2: (As character) Twenty-five.

Unidentified Man #3: (As character) Twenty-five meters, roger that.

Unidentified Man #4: (As character) Butcher shop, 2 o'clock, dude has a phone.

Unidentified Man #1: (As character) Why is Eldridge running? Come on, guys, talk to me.

Unidentified Man #5: (As character) Drop the phone.

(Soundbite of shouting)

Unidentified Man #5: (As character) I can't get a shot.

(Soundbite of explosion)

MONDELLO: This is a guy who is careful. So when the guy replacing him appears more cavalier, it really spooks the squad. And, after this opening, should spook audiences as well.

Staff Sergeant Will James, played by Jeremy Renner, may be a careful, even a talented technician, but he comes off as a showboating cowboy, as likely as not to strip off his protective gear when he approaches a bomb.

(Soundbite of film, "The Hurt Locker")

Unidentified Man #7: (As character) What's he doing?

Unidentified Man #8: (As character) I don't know. What are you doing?

Mr. JEREMY RENNER (Actor): (As Staff Sergeant Will James) There's enough (unintelligible) in there to send us all to Jesus. If I'm gonna die, I'm gonna die comfortable.

MONDELLO: The adrenaline rush of war has been largely missing from Hollywood's Iraq, but it's certainly front and center in "The Hurt Locker," the first war movie in a while that feels as if it could've starred John Wayne.

Director Kathryn Bigelow ratchets up tension and jangles nerves with scene after scene that could go either way, as when the squad tries to free a terrified Iraqi who's been chained into a bomb harness.

(Soundbite of film, "The Hurt Locker")

Unidentified Man #9: (As character) There's too many locks. There's too many - I can't do it. I can't get it off. I'm sorry, okay? Do you understand? I'm sorry. You hear me? I'm sorry. I'm sorry. Get down. Now.

MONDELLO: If the film were just a series of explosions artfully shot, Bigelow might lay claim to making a ferociously effective war flick, but she and screenwriter Mark Boal are aiming a little higher: They want to get inside the heads of the men in the squad - a trickier proposition. When the film gets misty about subsidiary characters, it also gets a bit lost. But more often, it's psychologically astute, especially when demonstrating how friction between the new guy and the squad smoothes a bit when they discover he's got a sentimental side: A keepsake box filled with bomb parts?

(Soundbite of film, "The Hurt Locker")

Mr. RENNER: (As Staff Sgt. James) This one, y'all, is from our first call together. This box is full of stuff that almost killed me.

Unidentified Man #10: (As character) What about this one? What's this one from, Will?

Mr. RENNER: (As Staff Sgt. James) It's my wedding ring. Like I said, stuff that almost killed me.

MONDELLO: There are things "The Hurt Locker" does not do. The Iraqis, mostly, are just scowling faces, and the reasons for the American presence are left to other movies. The focus here is on a single bomb squad, and if the quote that first lights up the screen — war is a drug — has been amply illustrated by the end of "The Hurt Locker," what Bigelow makes even more explosively clear is that for these men, war is also, centrally, a job - a job they have to be really good at, or they won't do it for long.

I'm Bob Mondello.

BLOCK: You can watch clips from "The Hurt Locker" and find reviews of lighter fare, including the new "Transformers" movie at npr.org.

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