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SXSW 2009: “The Hurt Locker.”

SXSW 2009: “The Hurt Locker.” (photo)

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“The Hurt Locker” is an action movie, which, given that it’s also a movie about the Iraq War, is kind of a revelation. Enough Iraq War films have been made now to enforce the common belief that no one actually wants to watch Iraq War films because they’re “depressing.” Which they generally are. The war is depressing. The trauma faced by the troops is depressing, the ethical morass of our involvement is depressing, the cost, in dollars and, more importantly, in lives — depressing.

“The Hurt Locker” doesn’t sidestep these facts as much as it doesn’t engage them at all — it’s a movie about combat, about the lulls and lows and unexpected, wild highs of life in a war zone. It’s essentially apolitical, its concerns not about the larger picture but how the men on which it focuses live lives stretched tight as a wire, and about how one of them has grown to love that. It’s also, with no disrespect to the seriousness of its setting, just a kick-ass entertainment, peppered with set pieces that summon incredible suspense out of stillness, whether during the defusing of an IED on a cleared out city street or during a sniper battle out in the desert. No finger-wagging, no “Redacted”-style didacticism, just head-rushingly cinematic sequences showing off the extremely dangerous day-to-day of an army bomb squad stationed in Iraq. A bravura opening shows the unit’s tools of trade: a robot with a camera, an armored suit that won’t do a damn thing if the tech wearing it has to actually close enough to a bomb to defuse it, and guns to wave uneasily at the crowd watching from the surrounding buildings, one that might conceal whoever has ability to detonate the explosive. When a bomb does goes off, the impact’s broken into tremory shots of dust rising off the ground, debris mushrooming into the air and blood spraying against the inside of a helmet.

The most familiar faces in the film — Ralph Fiennes, David Morse, Guy Pearce — show up and depart in unexpected places. The main roles belong to a pair of up-and-comers who’ve been rattling around the indie world for a while now, Anthony Mackie, of “Half Nelson” and “She Hate Me,” and Jeremy Renner, of “28 Weeks Later” and “North Country.” Mackie’s the straight-laced Sergeant Sanborn and Renner is James, the bomb tech and what one colonel admiring deems a “wild man,” both very skilled and very reckless with his work. Their relationship’s your basic odd-couple-coming-to-terms, and James, corn-fed and cocky, is in many ways your basic blockbuster hero. But the film’s set in something closer to the real world, where that’s not such a good thing — that swagger and that thrill-seeking make James more than a little fucked-up, someone who puts the lives of those around him in danger even as he demonstrates how great he is at what he does, how much better he is under pressure.

Kathryn Bigelow’s always shown a gift for injecting intelligence into big, pop productions, or maybe just knowing that aiming wider doesn’t require dumbing down. Or maybe that’s not even the point — “Point Break” could by no sane person be described as “smart,” but it’s more than earned its following with its full-born commitment to giddy, physics defying stunts and unwinking man-angst. The sluggish parts of “The Hurt Locker” — a storyline involving an particularly underdeveloped psychiatrist, a nighttime solo attempt at revenge — feel extraneous because, well, they are, adding nothing of worth to the characters or narrative, but also because they represent time away from the singular adrenaline-heightened sharpness of the bomb scenes. For James, everything between those peaks is colorless and dull, his life ideally one dally with mortality after another, and the film, as admirable as it is, feels like it should be true to that too.

“The Hurt Locker” will be in theaters June 26.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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