“The rush of battle is a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug.” This quote from Chris Hedges’s book "War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning" opens what is already being called one of the best war films ever.
I think it's too early to tell if it's worthy of the canon that includes FULL METAL JACKET, THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI, and GLORY (just to name a few), but it's definitely on the short list of great films about the war in Iraq. This is a very short list indeed because previously such movies either failed to connect with the masses or have been misguided messes; see REDACTED or STOP LOSS.
Kathryn Bigelow's THE HURT LOCKER is too powerful to be ignored with a tense sense of self that lingers long after it's over. Set in 2006, we get to closely know the actions of a squad of army technicians sent to defuse explosives seemingly hidden in every nook and cranny in the streets of Baghdad. Jeremy Renner portrays Sergeant First Class William James, a loose canon whose order-ignoring ferocious focus frustrates his fellow team members (including Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty) to no foreseeable end.
The only star power present comes from brief appearances by Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes, and Lost's Evangeline Lilly as Renner's stateside wife. In each tension filled heart pounding scene, the danger that comes with every step can be felt intensely. As one of the only stylized elements of the film, the explosions that inevitably come are admirably not exploitatively presented.
However, the 3-4 amazing combat sequences that make up the bulk of the material do not add up to a masterpiece. I could've done without most of the downtime barracks bits; Christian Camargo as a Colonel attempting therapy on Renner is stiff as is a lot of the surrounding dialogue.
These are small complaints as THE HURT LOCKER has more than enough of a gripping hold on its searing subject. Its coda, (don't worry no Spoilers!) which brings home the film's opening quote as we grasp the true nature of our protagonist, is one of the most satisfying dramatic conclusions of any movie in recent memory. Maybe not an instant modern war classic, what matters is it's a damn good movie.