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Sing Like an American Idol, Women's Edition
Everything You Need to Sing the Hits!
(Discounted Paperback (with CD) from Amazon)
"The Hurt Locker"
For one of the best ways to understand the risks and gut-chewing tension of being a U.S. combat soldier in Baghdad, patrol the "The Hurt Locker" with the three men of the elite army bomb unit there. The first thing you'll see is one of them dying due to an inadvertently triggered IED blast. That poor troop was Sergeant Matt Thompson (Guy Pearce, "Traitor," "Memento") whose role here is disproportionately brief.
You might think that men in the line of work of identifying, digging up and disarming bombs would adhere to the principles of teamwork--what with depending on your buddy to keep you alive as a predominant policy issue. But James, from the git-go, makes it clear that he will do things his own way and take orders from no body. Which may be all right in wild wooly places like Manhattan Times Square. But in the very dangerous streets and back alleys of this bomb-crazy, sandy city, not so much.
Yet he all but ignores his teams updates on who is watching them from windows and balconies, with cameras and bare eyes and special interest in the bomb-suited cowboy getting up close and personal with the explosives intended exactly for the likes of him by any one of them. He could be asking which Iraqi observing him might have a remote unit to take one more American intruder/occupier off the map? Yet James acts as though the chances of that are what's remote. Well, he's lived this long, hasn't he?
Though a gamut of IED encounters keeps them busy throughout the movie, providing naturally intense suspense, there are variations in the situations that arise in episodes of action rather than a conventional 3-act structure. The episodes, which conform more to the order of life, impart all the feeling of a documentary, marked by hugely dramatic set pieces.
One episode of particular interest is a long range sharpshooter attack on their position in the desert. The first round takes an unsuspecting soldier out. Sanborn scrambles up to a ridge position with the squad's Barrett 50- caliber sniper rifle. James joins him as a spotter and they soon find the enemy position in a window of a distant two-story structure. The deadly aim of the enemy sniper tells them that any bullet any time can take either one of them out without warning. As they line up on the shooter, awaiting an opportunity, they feed off each others fears and strictly professional concentration. If they get out of the situation alive, they will have a new level of respect for each other.
Director Kathryn Bigelow (Mission Zero," "Karen Sisco" TV), working from a script by Mark Boal ("In the Valley of Elah" story), doesn't rush the playing out of any scene, instead draining every electrifying moment for its full buzz in our guts. It's not an effect that any audience will miss and a remarkable piece of work focusing on a unique military job and the kind of crew that might well find themselves doing it. We can only be in awe.
Though I take a chance with political correctness in saying so, and I mean it in no patronizing way but rather from a heap of anecdotal evidence, a female director as successful as this with such uncompromisingly male material forces special admiration. Has there ever been a woman director who had a more complete handle on the macho mind, the functions of swearing, facing annihilation, black humor, fear, and challenges no civilized man should have to meet? With that kind of empathetic ammunition at her disposal, she has so very cooly pulled off one of the best 3-man character studies I can remember, set in wartime or not. This is no chick-lit lady and I'd be glad to buy her dinner to probe her mind. Pick the time and place somewhere in Hollywood, m'dear.
Guy Pearce plays Sgt. Thompson for the few minutes we see him alive splendidly. Ralph Fiennes is the contractor team leader; David Morse comes in as Colonel Reed; and the entire supporting team distinguishes itself well. Mackie is outstanding in drawing our sympathy for expressing his displeasure while putting it aside to suit up the object of his wrath. But, it's Renner, who baffles you with his interpretation of Sgt. James until you finally come to understand him as a very unusual individual, in the right place and the right time with the right set of nerves for his particular emotional makeup and steely disposition, who makes the indelible mark.
This is a memorable, must-see movie mission to experience, with enough sticks of dynamite and blocks of C-4 to shatter your equanimity. I can promise that you'll come out of it shaken, but alive.
~~ Jules Brenner