Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker [125 points/20 votes]
"Staff Sergeant William James’s fellow soldiers dub him "reckless," a "rowdy boy," a "wild man." That’s how we see him at first, too: the way he briskly strides towards the IED he has been tasked with disarming in his first on-screen mission, his every self-assured movement a stark contrast to the caution displayed by Staff Sergeant Thompson (his predecessor in Bravo Company) in the film’s opening scene, suggests arrogance, as does the way he discards his headset during his next mission so that he doesn’t have to listen to the warnings of the man charged with keeping him safe. But look closer: observe the faraway look in his eyes as he’s dressed in his blast suit before that first mission, consider the way he systematically and thoroughly searches the car wired with explosives for the initiation system in that second one. This is a man intently focused on the task at hand, not an adrenaline junkie. He disregards the dangers to his person that go along with being a bomb tech, yes, but does he ever do anything to put himself in harm’s way besides whatever it takes to complete his mission?
Renner doesn’t play James as a great warrior, but rather as a man who is fully committed to his job and always completely engrossed in whatever he’s doing. He is a good soldier, but that’s not his defining characteristic. Which is what makes his performance so memorable: by the time we’ve spent two hours with James in Iraq watching him do something that he’s so good at, it’s impossible for us to imagine him anywhere else. After a while, it becomes obvious that he can’t see himself anywhere else either.
The Hurt Locker opens with a quote by Chris Hedges: “the rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug.” James will keep going back until he is finally killed, wounded, or forced to retire, because we, as a society, don’t have anything else to offer him that makes use of his peculiar talents. The faintly ironic smile that Renner wears during the film’s final scene will haunt me for a long time: the tragedy of Sergeant James is that of a man who knows that the better part of his potential is doomed to go to waste.” - Andy Horbal
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Tom Hardy, Bronson [49/9]