The Hurt Locker is a 2009 war-drama film surrounding a squad of soldiers assembled in Iraq who are perturbed by their new man - Sergeant William James, a wildfire and an expert in defusing bombs.
This is just an exquisite piece of filmmaking. Everybody involved is at the top of their game.
Bigelow's direction is so tonally and atmospherically perfect for this movie (and the subsequent thematically-linked movies she would go on to make). If there's one thing Bigelow does better than a LOT of other directors, it's building tension and seeing it payoff in a satisfying way. FULL props to Miss Bigelow for this achievement in directing.
Jeremy Renner hit his peak with this performance and it's hard to think of him putting in work that's better. He challenges that with 'THE TOWN' and years later, 'WIND RIVER' but 'THE HURT LOCKER' remains his most complex, enthralling character and performance to date. His provocative, erratic Sergeant James is as wild as you would expect, but Renner manages to deliver periods of restraint, where we see his quieter moments, something another actor might have chosen to load with a quiet rage, but Renner's ability to pull back, even for a second, is invaluable to the character work. I also have to mention Brian Geraghty's sensitive, compelling work as Eldridge here as an addendum, because his performance has always been overlooked and I strongly support more love and attention for it.
A lot of that effort is achieved by Mark Boal's screenplay, which is superbly written and packed with some good dialogue, characters, and some lovely storytelling through action set pieces, which combine themselves beautifully with Bigelow's abilities. Even though this may not be seem to be a writer's film, it most certainly benefits from the tightness of the screenplay.
The documentary-style cinematography from Barry Ackroyd was a bold choice to take for this move, as were the abundance of hand-held shots. But when you're shooting and the framing the frenetic energy of war, Ackroyd proves to be right, as his informal frames and shots capture everything through a seemingly ordinary lens, painting these soldiers as real as any another person so that their more inaccessible struggles, such as defusing bombs and looking out for insurgents, become emotionally-charged, tense moments that make the spine tingle.
And where would this film be without the criminally overlooked score for Marco Beltrami? There is some lusciously effective sound design in this movie and it works to prolong the tension and amplify the payoffs, but Beltrami's score explores a mixture of themes and motifs, from the more dynamic expressions of war to the softer, more emotional effects of the battle. It's a beautiful score that I still listen to almost ten years later.