U.S. soldiers in Iraq, especially before the 2007 surge, knew what to expect: 130° heat and streets full of men, women and kids, any one of whom could detonate an improvised explosive device and blow a street and all its people, American and Iraqi, to bits. In this hell storm, what’s left for an ordinary soldier to do? His job. Action-movie maven Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal did theirs too — so well that The Hurt Locker, a scary, thrilling patrol of those Baghdad streets by men who defuse IEDs, won six Oscars, including Best Picture, Director and Screenplay. (The runner-up that year: Avatar, written and directed by Bigelow’s ex-husband James Cameron.)
When the leader of a bomb-disposal unit dies in action, the two survivors (Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty) get a new boss: William James (Jeremy Renner), a tough hombre energized by mortal danger. James is nuts, but he’s exactly the right kind of crazy for the job: ice-water nerves and a go-it-alone bravado match his ninja expertise. He has the cool aplomb, analytical acumen and attention to detail of a great athlete or a master serial killer — anyway, some gifted obsessive. Short of being there, you’ll never get closer to the on-the-ground immediacy of the Iraq or Afghanistan occupations, the sick tension, the toxic tang. This great, unflinching war film deserved its Oscars. We’d also award it a Medal of Honor.
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