Find a bomb, defuse it. Find a bomb, defuse it. The job is simple enough, but the room for error is zero. Fail to defuse it, and die. This is the daily work of the United States Army's Bravo Company. They patrol Baghdad during one of the Iraq war's most hellish times, trying each day not to get blown up.
James (Jeremy Renner) joins a tightly knit bomb-disposal unit where Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) is already the intelligence expert. James, by contrast, is a real cowboy. Even in the hulking shell of his bomb suit, his swagger is obvious. He has successfully disabled 873 devices, approaching the job with the no-nonsense grit of a Bigelow hero—and the recklessness too.
But as the unit faces tougher challenges with each new bomb, the men start to fight James's bullish methods. They have only thirty-eight days left in their rotation. They want to live to see day thirty-nine.
2009 will be remembered in film history as the year people started making movies about the Iraq War that audiences actually cared about seeing. From the inspired, bumbling behind-the-scenes machinations of the hilarious 'In the Loop,' to the overt symbolism of James Cameron's magnum opus 'Avatar,' the conflict has finally been getting the cinematic discussion it deserves (miles away from duds like 'Rendition'). But the biggest, bravest, boldest, and most brilliant of these Iraq films was Kathryn Bigelow's breathless 'The Hurt Locker,' a meditation on war, a psychological profile of those who engage in it (to the point of addiction), and a kick-ass action film, all in one.
The film opens with a quote from a New York Times correspondent that says, "The rush of battle is a potent and often lethal addiction, for war is a drug." The other words fade away and we're left with the following: "war is a drug." We are then smack in the middle of a bomb disposal unit in Iraq, as they furiously attempt to dismantle a bomb. The operation is comprised of a bomb disposal robot and three men, one of whom must go in and actually face the music.
Like the opening scene from the original 'Scream,' things do not go as expected, and it immediately throws the audience off balance. Knowing that anything is possible, you find yourself totally locked in and ready to roll. Anything can, and does, happen.
The rest of the movie follows Jeremy Renner's character as he goes about dismantling a series of hair-raising bombs. Part of the fun is the surprise of the journey. As much as it's about Renner's addiction to the danger of dismantling bombs, it's also about the friendship that he and his unit experience, and about the nonjudgmental assessment of the insurgents that set those bombs. They are every bit as committed as Renner, with a different goal.
But more than any of that is the film's acute handling of suspense. Not since 'Wages of Fear' has a movie sustained this level of white-knuckle tension. Literally there's not a second that goes by when you're not gripping your armrest in breathless anticipation. Because it's not just the action sequences that get you riled up. It's the quieter scenes too, knowing that there's some calamity waiting just around the corner. Kathryn Bigelow, a director who makes muscular action pictures with an uncommon amount of grace (stuff like 'Point Break,' 'Near Dark,' and my personal favorite, 'Strange Days'), shoots the film with a documentarian's eye for detail and personal struggle. She doesn't direct the action so much as she captures it happening.
And if all this high minded waffling doesn't convince someone you know to see the movie, you can just describe it like a good friend of mine does: "It's like 'Lethal Weapon' in Iraq." Which, yeah, I guess it kind of is like that and so, so much more. 'The Hurt Locker' is easily one of 2009's very best films.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
The disc auto-plays when you put it in your machine, and is followed by a bunch of previews for mediocre Summit movies. It's a 50GB Blu-ray disc that is Region A locked.
The MPEG 4-AVC 1080p transfer (maintaining the original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1) is totally wonderful.
The film's look, overall, is quite washed out, color-wise. They actually filmed in the Middle East, so it's full of grays and dull oranges. What this transfer does, brilliantly, is maintain a striking amount of detail and clarity in an image that could easily have been washed away. This is evident in the very first sequence. This level of superior picture quality remains throughout the film.
Skin tones look excellent, the occasional bursts of color really pop, black levels are deep and inky (perfect for a prolonged nighttime sequence), and there are no traces of scratches, splices, or anything like that. There's also a welcome absence of digital noise reduction or any buggy technical issues. A fine level of dirt adds to the 'you are there' authenticity and doesn't detract at all from your viewing experience.
Otherwise, there isn't a whole lot to say about this transfer. It's a stunner; an absolutely wonderful transfer, totally worthy of the movie.
Just as jaw dropping as the picture quality is the disc's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix.
Had this disc sported that great transfer and totally dropped the ball on the audio, it would have been an unmitigated disaster. Thankfully, the audio is just as impressive. The sound field is almost active the entire time. Every crunch of sand beneath a soldier's foot, every bullet fired, every bomb detonated, the strained breathing of a bomb technician underneath his cumbersome suit, all of this is beautifully rendered and prioritized and brought to fully formed life by this transfer.
Sound effects sound crisp and new, the film's score really comes through, and nothing collides or oversteps anything else. The mix never becomes overwhelming or cacophonous; instead it puts you right into these hairy situations with shocking authenticity.
And while the action sequences will (justifiably) get most of the attention since they are the things that will probably whoosh your hair back like the old Maxell ads, the quieter scenes, in between the set pieces, with the soldiers talking to each other (and a longer sequence following one of our heroes home) sound just as good. Dialogue is crisp and clear and just as well prioritized.
There's no crackle or pops or any other technical concerns. This is just an excellent mix, on par with the disc's superb video.
The other audio options are a English 2.0 Dolby Surround Mix as well as Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 track, with subtitles in English SDH and Spanish.
All the extras presented on this disc are also on the DVD. Thankfully, it's quality over quantity, and these are really great. They also have been bumped up to HD, which is always nice.
Hands down, this is one of 2010's first must own Blu-ray releases. The movie is an absolute, pulse-quickening masterpiece, the disc's audio and video are staggering and the extra features, while not voluminous (it leads me to believe, should the movie get the Academy Awards appreciation that's predicted, we'll see another, fancier version down the line), are really wonderful just the same. This is one disc that deserves to be in everyone's collection.