A strong film that came under fire for its fantastical representation of the soldier’s experience in Iraq, circa 2004. Fair enough. The action sequences of a team of bomb detonators are over-the-top. But they are exciting and the feel of Iraq seems right. The lead actor, who was nominated (Jeremy Renner), is the weakest link, but only because he is too broadly written – he’s just a cowboy and to the extent he resonates, it is solely due to his effect on his team members. By the end, the film finds it necessary to spell out what is painfully clear, from the opening Chris Hedges quote (war is a drug) to a scene with Renner and his baby where Renner is made to tell the infant that he only loves one thing (danger). Such unsubtle exposition shows a lack of confidence in the narrative.
Kathryn Bigelow’s direction, however, is expert and the story holds you. Better, there are very short cameos by actors who can present forcefully with little screen time (Guy Pearce, David Morse, and Ralph Fiennes).