While I was watching “The Hurt Locker,” I remember whispering two words in the theater when Jeremy Renner’s Sgt. William James pulls up the wires attached to seven bombs surrounding him: “Oh shit.” Exactly the two words I’m always trying to elicit from the audience when I sit down to write. “The Hurt Locker” will get a lot of notice this season for being an excellent drama, a great war movie and a superb character piece, but for me it succeeds first and foremost as an incredibly tense thriller. Screenwriter Mark Boal and director Kathryn Bigelow take a very time-worn thriller cliche and make it new and fresh again not once but several times in the same movie. How often have we seen an action hero staring at a bomb, trying to pick the correct wire that will diffuse it while the clock runs down? In most of the situations, Boal takes out the two essential pieces to that equation (the correct wire and the ticking clock). Instead, he creates tension from a potential trigger-man standing watch on a rooftop while the bomb is being disarmed or the simple problem of not having a powerful enough bolt cutter. This may be Boal’s first script, but it’s storytelling at its most expert.
Jeff Davis is creator of the CBS series ‘Criminal Minds.’