The Hurt Locker is the best Iraq war film ever, and one of the best war films since Saving Private Ryan. It's a taught thriller, wrapped in the rough, sandy exterior of the war in Iraq. Part of the reason The Hurt Locker succeeds is that it's primarily a character study and stays away from political analysis and opinion about the war itself. This is easily Kathryn Bigelow's best film, and is sure to win her some Hollywood clout when it comes 'round to awards season.
At the center of this film is an EOD squad (explosive ordnance disposal), made up of three men, who must constantly disarm roadside bombs of all shapes and sizes. Each scenario is different, but the suspense is palpable. These men have to not only worry about disarming the bomb, but are constantly on the lookout for the enemy hidden in plain sight amongst the Iraqi civilians (who watch the EOD squad eagerly and intently), ready to set off the bomb.
Jeremy Renner plays the leader of this EOD squad, and his performance is superb, with a mix of super-hero like bravado and emotional gravitas. His character is complex and mesmerizing, but ultimately I was frustrated by the direction this film went with him. Whether you respect him or not, it's impossible to take your eyes off of him. His squad mates are also complex characters and the dynamic between this team is volatile, heartwarming, and even comedic at times. Throughout the film there are other characters the squad comes into contact with, usually played by big name actors, but each is handled with such a deft, understated touch that really increases the sense of realism.
If you only see one movie this year that's set during a war, see Inglourious Basterds. If you see two, check out The Hurt Locker. The pacing of the story, the beautiful cinematography, the acting and direction all deserve to be seen.