From 1970 to 2000 (a span of thirty years) I managed to see almost every film that won a Best Picture of the Year Academy Award. I missed a few here and there but I had a pretty good batting average. Heck, most years, I took pride in having seen all five of the films nominated for Best Picture.
But my movie going went into decline at the turn of this century and since 2000, I've seen only five Best Pictures of the Year: GLADIATOR (2000), MILLION DOLLAR BABY (2004), THE DEPARTED (2006) NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2007) and finally, about a month ago, THE HURT LOCKER (2009). That's five films out of fourteen. I've yet to see A BEAUTIFUL MIND (2001), CHICAGO (2002), THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING (2003), CRASH (2005), SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE (2008), THE KING'S SPEECH (2010), THE ARTIST (2011), ARGO (2012) and 12 YEARS A SLAVE (2013). I'm sure I'll eventually see most of these films except for THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING. I'd sooner scoop out my eyeballs with a dull spoon than watch any of the six Tolkien based films that have thus far been produced.
I spent a buck on a used DVD of THE HURT LOCKER at the thrift store awhile back, figuring what the hell, if this movie's no good, I'm only out a dollar. It turned out to be a very good movie indeed. Was it the best film of that year? Well, it was certainly better than DANCES WITH SMURFS, er, AVATAR, which was also nominated that year.
THE HURT LOCKER details the exploits of a three man Explosive Ordnance Disposal team during the Iraq War. The men are counting down the days until their tour of duty is up and they can return home. At least, two of the men are. The other, Sergeant First Class William James (Jeremy Renner) lives his life on the edge 24/7. He's the best of the three men, fearlessly walking into danger to disarm bombs and other threats. He lives on the adrenaline rush of danger, the thrill of being a split second away from devastating injury or death. He's so addicted, he can't function without some kind of threat to face down.
The other members of the team, Sergeant J.T. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) are good at what they do also, which is providing support and cover to James while he's defusing bombs. But these men are scared by their jobs, wrung out by the stress and fear and just want to survive long enough to go home alive and in one piece.
The structure of the film is episodic in nature. The men find themselves in several different potentially deadly situations throughout the film. All of these sequences are brilliantly filmed and edited to achieve maximum suspense and impact. Director Kathryn Bigelow puts us right alongside James, Sanborn and Eldridge and lets us feel the heat and the sweat, the suffocating claustrophobia of the bomb suit, let's us taste the bright metallic tang of fear that these men experience on almost a daily basis.
Following an excruciatingly suspenseful final episode with a suicide bomber, the men are sent home. James returns to his wife and infant child but he has no clue how to operate and survive in the relative peace and calm of the real world. He's in one piece physically, but he's so broken on a psychological level that he simply can't exist without the constant thrill of danger. He signs up for another tour of duty and goes back into the Iraq theater of war at the end of the film.
THE HURT LOCKER received nine Academy Award nominations including: Best Picture (winner), Best Director (Bigelow, winner), Best Original Screenplay (Mark Boal, winner), Best Sound Editing (winner), Best Sound Mixing (winner), Best Film Editing (winner), Best Actor (Renner), Best Original Score and Best Cinematography. Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win an Oscar for Best Director, beating ex-husband James Cameron who was also nominated for directing AVATAR. Jeremy Renner went on to star as the ace bowman Hawkeye in THE AVENGERS and THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON while co-star Anthony Mackie appeared as Sam Wilson/The Falcon in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLIDER.
THE HURT LOCKER is an outstanding piece of film making. It's extremely well made, well acted and well written. It shows us a side of modern warfare that the average person has no conception of. The men who put their lives on the line to defuse bombs in a war zone pay a high price. They may survive but they'll never be the same. Highly recommended.