THE HURT LOCKER — ★★★★ — Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty; with English subtitles (Arabic dialects); rated R (violence, profanity, gore, vulgarity, slurs, brief drugs); in general release
At the risk of spoiling a bit of crucial information, one of the most recognizable actors in "The Hurt Locker" is killed within the first approximately 10 minutes of the movie.
That's to reinforce that no one — nothing — are safe in this thriller, which is not only one of the year's best films so far, it's also arguably the best feature film made about the Iraq war.
Along with the HBO miniseries "Generation Kill," it vividly and compellingly portrays the plight of American soldiers who are serving their country in the Middle East.
The film is almost unbearably tense. "Hurt Locker" practically drips adrenaline from every pore, and it's so taut that you could practically hang your laundry out to dry on it.
Jeremy Renner stars as Staff Sgt. Will James, a member of the U.S. Army's Explosive Ordnance Disposal division.
He's a new addition to Bravo Company, which has a little more than a month left in its year-long "rotation."
The surviving members of Bravo Company — Sgt. JT Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Spc. Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) — hope to stay alive long enough to get their discharge papers.
Will, however, walks straight into danger with little to no fear. On his first day with Bravo, he defuses a tricky booby trap. On his second, he's shot at while he tries to disarm a car bomb parked out front of a United Nations office building.
So, it's no wonder that Sanborn thinks he's reckless and possibly crazy. As the days and hours slowly tick away, tensions build between these two supposed brothers-in-arms.
Every time you think you know where the film is going, it does an about-face and heads in another, equally effective direction. Screenwriter Mark Boal's plotting may seem a little haphazard but it's definitely got a purpose.
Also, this is by far Kathryn Bigelow's best work as a director.
Of course, it still might not work if not for the three male leads. Renner is the obvious standout, as the cocky but still likable Will. (This will likely be the journeyman actor's breakout role.)
Mackie and Geraghty — who also appeared in "We Are Marshall" — are good as well. (The movie also features brief supporting turns from the likes of Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes, David Morse and Evangeline Lilly.)
"The Hurt Locker" is rated R and features strong, sometimes disturbing war violence and imagery (shootings and gunplay, explosive and vehicular mayhem), strong sexual language (profanity, crude slang and other frank sex talk), some fairly graphic gore and blood, derogatory language and slurs (some based on race or ethnic heritage), and brief drug use and references (painkillers and pharmaceuticals). Running time: 131 minutes.