I'm trying not to review movies that I have watched in the past, but rather movies that I just finished watching. I think that reviewing a movie months or years after the viewing is unfair to the film in question. I saw The Hurt Locker when it came out on DVD last month, but since it just won Best Picture, I figured it was okay for me to bend the rules and throw my two cents in now.
War movies are, as a genre, a mix of testosterone and malestrogen (the bodily chemical that causes Man Tears). If you disagree, watch your grandpa's reaction to the end of Saving Private Ryan; when the elderly Matt Damon character is talking to Tom Hanks' grave, I guarantee gramps will be quietly leaking tears made of beer, sweat, and cursing. The Hurt Locker plays against type by never really having that malestrogen moment, or for that matter, much of anything when it comes to small moments.
Jeremy Renner plays a bomb technician who joins a new company after their friend and bomb technician is killed in action. Renner plays the new guy entering the established status quo, which consists of a three man team, played by Anthony Mackie, Brian Garaghty, and now Renner. Renner is a lone wolf who is seemingly oblivious to danger, while his teammates are all too aware of it. This acts as the main conflict in the film, as Mackie and Garaghty's characters are just trying to survive the remainder of their deployment, while Renner is just interested in defusing bombs, regardless of his own or his team's safety. Unlike a lot of war films, then, the conflict here is an emotional one between a small group of people.
Renner does a pretty good job as a bomb technician. Yes, he's overly confident and casual about danger, but I see that as realistic for a character that decides that war isn't dangerous enough, so he decides to defuse homemade bombs. It's a good thing that Renner's performance is pretty good, since Mackie and Garaghty don't do much with their parts. Mackie spends most of his screen time scowling and Garaghty might as well have been doing a screen test to play Linus in a live-action "Peanuts" movie. Neither performance is bad, mind you, but both could have done better. Both have a moment, though, after the three of them get drunk together that was pretty good. Renner has one scene in particular where his character shines in a very understated way. It's a simple scene, featuring him speaking softly to his infant child, trying to articulate why he likes the army and why he feels uncomfortable as a civilian. It's a simple, understated scene that could easily have been sappy or overblown, but is allowed to be subtle and trust the intelligence of the viewer.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of smaller bits that knock the movie down a few notches for me. The first is the movie's slogan, "War is a Drug." Now you know that director Kathryn Bigelow, the director of such subtle masterpieces as Point Break and K-19: The Widowmaker (AKA "Harrison Ford can't do accents"), is going to be using metaphors.
Overall, the film tries to make some intelligent points about war and the people that choose to be in the Armed Forces. The movie had some wonderfully eloquent, subtle scenes, but it countered those with ham-fisted metaphors. Renner was pretty good, but the director didn't get enough out of the supporting cast to fulfill the potential of this well-shot film.