Hurt Locker. The Hurt Locker is Kathryn Bigelow’s greatest film yet. Like the following year’s District 9, Inglourious Basterds, and Avatar (by Bigelow’s ex-husband and ex-collaborator James Cameron), it taps back into the sentiment of the “good war” that audiences clearly craved after an onslaught of dreary films such as Rendition (2007), Stop Loss (2008), and Lions for Lambs (2007): “unjustified war” stories that had kept theaters empty for years. In 2010, Bigelow made history as the first female director ever to win an Oscar—only three female directors had previously been nominated.
Her fascination with violence and our relationships to it (audience and characters alike) here gets its most distilled and most visceral treatment. Action in movies excites, she has always proclaimed, and the lives of the violent, those who choose to live with danger, are the most worthy of her attention. With the steady hand of screenwriter and ex-journalist Mark Boal, she creates almost unbearable suspense, with Jeremy Renner in an Oscar-nominated turn as Staff Sergeant William James. Set during the Iraq War, The Hurt Locker skillfully pulls us into the chaos of an elite U.S. bomb deactivation unit by concentrating on authenticity and character, while avoiding politics and polemics. Through escalating set pieces and dollops of personal information, Bigelow presents not the nature of war, but rather the nature of the warrior.