Due to the unprecedented 10 films selected as Best Picture Oscar nominees, this year's viewing of the AMC Best Picture Showcase 2010 was somewhat limiting as the viewing I chose to attend (for fear of losing my sanity attempting to watch all 10 in a row) was limited to just 5 of the Oscar nominees (Up in the Air, Precious - Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire, Inglorious Bastards, AVATAR, and The Blind Side).
To be sure, I had definitely intended to see the victor, The Hurt Locker, but unfortunately was forced to wait for its DVD release (admittedly, the formerly little-known Indie flick failed to garner my attention earlier). Following a couple weeks in my Netflix queue labeled "very long wait" it finally arrived in my mailbox.
Katheryn Bigelow's Best Director/Best Picture winner, though markedly less romantic than it's (and her personal) rival, James Cameron's AVATAR, gives the viewer something better; a realistic depiction of the conditions of war (and despite numerous critiques this reviewer has come across, sans any romantic, or for that matter, political, zeal).
Focused on three primary characters, The Hurt Locker presents three young American soldiers serving in Iraq in the improvised explosive device (IED) detection/removal division. In a jarring opening scene we see Guy Pearce (of LA Confidential and Memento fame) as Staff Sergeant Matt Thompson; the first of the squad to suffer the dire consequences of a grueling job. Watching as he carefully plots his course in an attempt to diffuse a small-scale roadside IED, the viewer is instantly sucked into the war drama and can literally feel the dirt, the dust, and the sweat, pouring off Staff Sergeant Thompson's face as he strides down the street in a huge explosive-detection suit. This first scene, indeed sets the backdrop for the rest of the film with Bigelow giving us all-encompassing explosions, annoying dust, and what actually feels like relentless thirst for a Capri Sun in the desert.
Sergeant Thompson is subsequently replaced with Sergeant First Class William James (played by Jeremy Renner); a wildly enthusiastic soldier with a cowboy-esque attitude. Of course, the two remaining members of Thompson's original team, Sergeant JT Sanborn (played by Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Owen Eldridge (played by Brian Geraghty) struggle to cope with the new guy's cavalier attitude, and at times, brash decisions. Adding to the already imbedded drama throughout the film, the dynamic between Sanborn and James is always teetering on the edge; wavering between sworn adversaries and mutually respected friendship.
Specialist Eldridge, vastly different from James, gives us an inside view into the mind of a young soldier as he struggles to literally fight each and every day for his life (and the lives of those around him). As the days on his tour of duty languish, each minute of the day seems to get harder for him to deal with. Taking solace in the Army-provided medical staff, Eldridge reaches out to a psychologist, Colonel John Cambridge (interestingly enough played by Christian Camargo, AKA Dexter's "The Ice Truck Killer"). Colonel Cambridge provides a much-needed shoulder for Eldridge, but unfortunately falls victim to the circumstances of his own surroundings while out with the team.
On a more personal note, as a former analyst in the security/force protection world, this reviewer thoroughly enjoyed the addition of private security contractors thrown into the story line. Specifically, as the IED detection team comes across an overturned vehicle in the wild Iraq "countryside" we are introduced (albeit briefly) to a nameless Ralph Fiennes, playing a British private contractor leading a definitely worse-for-wear team. In an outward nod to American-British cooperation on the battlefield, against the blazing sun, blistering winds, and downright pesky flies, Sergeant First Class James, Sergeant Sanborn, and Specialist Eldridge stop to lend a hand to Fiennes and his group.
Finally, I suppose it should be noted that Kathryn Bigalow's Best Director win was, like the 2010 Best Picture nominee list; unprecedented (Bigelow is the first female director to win the award). However, it should also be noted that this should come as no surprise to anyone (including Bigelow's ex-husband, Cameron); she did a phenomenal job on this film!
The Hurt Locker is recommended for fans of the "War Time Drama" (flicks like Apocalypse Now and Saving Private Ryan) and those just interested in an enthralling human drama.
The Bee Charmer Review rating: A