Powerful and suspenseful, beautifully directed and acted. Together with Dexter Filkins’ amazing The Forever War, which I’m currently reading, this gives a picture of the war in Iraq that makes you wonder, over and over, what are we doing there? Who is the enemy we are fighting? It could be anyone – the man with the cell phone in the butcher shop? The boy who is hawking bootleg DVDs? How can anyone tell? What are the soldiers trying to accomplish? Dismantling bombs, to be sure; keeping alive, most of all. But effecting change in Iraq? Not bloody likely.
Don’t get me wrong. This film is far from political, and that is one its strengths. What the viewer will feel about the Iraq war is probably what he was inclined to feel going in. The film focuses instead on three men in the bomb-disposal unit: James, the gung-ho redneck who is no good with people but needs the adrenaline rush of combat; Sanborn, the practical sergeant-in-the-middle; and Will, the specialist whose nerves are shot and just wants to go home. How they work together and where they end up provides the story arc. But the story is secondary to the cascading series of bomb incidents, which are the true loves of (Oscar-worthy) director Kathryn Bigelow. And when James re-ups for another tour of duty, we are left to ponder two unrelated but similarly profound thoughts: coming home to cleaning the gutters is a huge psychological letdown for someone who has been at war; and in going back to Iraq, the bombs will still be there, almost nothing will have changed.
Incidental kudos to Ralph Fiennes, Guy Pearce and David Morse for taking on almost-cameo roles, an interesting flip when the movie’s stars, Jeremy Renner and Anthony Mackie are virtual unknowns.