Review in a Hurry: In the latest Iraq War movie...Wait, don't leave! This one's actually good, we promise! Eschewing political commentary for nerve-rattling suspense, director Kathryn Bigelow (Point Break, Near Dark), palpably conveys the unrelenting tension of life in a never-ending war zone.
The Bigger Picture: After an attempted bomb defusing goes horribly wrong, the Iraq-based Bravo company is assigned a new Staff Sergeant, William James (Jeremy Renner). But unlike his predecessor, James is a cocksure adrenaline junkie who frequently ignores protocol, and makes things difficult on his teammates, the aggressive Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and nervous Eldridge (Brian Geraghty).
Fortunately, James may be insensitive and reckless, but he is also very, very good at what he does—defusing the deadly IEDs (improvised explosive devices, for those who don't watch the news) that lie buried in wait for luckless soldiers to drive over, or near, them. But as the days in Bravo company's tour of duty count down, James' increasing tendency to push his luck threatens to needlessly jeopardize his comrades.
Shooting on a low budget, often in documentary style, and with many actual Iraqi refugees in the cast, Bigelow has made what is easily her best film yet. It was always clear she could direct action, but here she brings the subtext as well—in one particularly excellent sequence, a few brief shots of James back home instantly convey a sense of post-traumatic stress and disorientation.
Likewise, scenes of the team on their down time getting drunk and beating the holy hell out of each other just to blow off steam feel truer than the standard-issue male bonding we usually see in such films. Even the cadences of James' speech in the midst of combat feel real. Renner may have already starred in Dahmer and 28 Weeks Later, but this is the real breakthrough role for him.
If you're a cinematic thrill-seeker, this portrayal of the real deal is just the fix you've been looking for.
The 180—a Second Opinion: Though there are no politics in this movie that are likely to offend, some scenes of gruesome violence—including towards children—make this a flick not for the faint-hearted.
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