If you've seen Jeremy Renner's work, it probably wasn't on a date night.

His big break came playing the title role in 2002's 'Dahmer' (yes, that Dahmer). More recently, he was the singing member of the James' Gang in the lengthy-but-worth-it 'The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.' And he's now enjoying serious Oscar buzz for his lead performance in the tense Iraq war drama 'The Hurt Locker.' If you've seen Jeremy Renner's work, it probably wasn't on a date night.

His big break came playing the title role in 2002's 'Dahmer' (yes, that Dahmer). More recently, he was the singing member of the James' Gang in the lengthy-but-worth-it 'The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.' And he's now enjoying serious Oscar buzz for his lead performance in the tense Iraq war drama 'The Hurt Locker.'

It's no surprise that Renner's biggest 'Locker' honor so far has been a Best Actor nomination from his fellow union members at SAG. Perhaps only actors can understand the unique challenge of Renner's role, the mellow "wild man," Staff Sgt. Will James.

Director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal open the film with a quote from journalist Chris Hedges: "War is a drug." And Sgt. James is a workaholic. A bomb specialist, he defuses improvised explosive devices -- or IEDs – with a cool professionalism. He greets detonators with a smile and even expresses admiration for the better bomb-makers he's foiled.



But when James goes out of his way to make a routine mission a little chancier, his wary Delta Company teammate, Sgt. Sanborn (the terrific Anthony Mackie) begins to wonder if his commander is the real threat. It doesn't help Sanborn's psyche that James's tactics begin to seem wise. James is a calming influence on the panicky Sgt. Eldridge (Brain Geraghty) and he seems cautious compared to a wired British contractor (Ralph Fiennes).

Renner could walk away with two SAG Awards on Jan. 23 -- he's also honored in the ensemble category. And the odds for an Academy Award nomination look good. Let's face it, Oscar loves addiction, from 'The Lost Weekend' to 'Lady Sings the Blues' to 'Leaving Las Vegas.' 'The Hurt Locker' is the most unexpected of addiction movies. Sgt. James needs combat. Renner has no tell-all monologues (his most memorable lines include "I forgot my gloves," "I'm wonderful, how are you?" and "Just kidding.")

It's how he says what he says – and does what he does -- that gets your attention. Encased in a heap of body armor, baking in the desert sun, he struts around like he's headed for the beach. But there's not a 'Rambo' moment in the whole performance. What is with Sgt. James, anyway? How did Renner do it? One hopes more people (and Oscar voters) will watch and find out.
CATEGORIES Oscars, Awards