An intense and captivating film by now Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow, and the Best Picture winner of 2009. It has been a long time since I have seen a film that gave me nightmares after watching it. That is not necessarily a bad thing. It means the film had provoked a certain reaction from me that obviously was psychologically disturbing. The film's premise works very well for a suspense formula. A bomb disposal unit has to go around Iraq to defuse anything that can kill Americans and fellow Iraqis. It is a shame that Hitchcock never made a film about an anti-explosive specialist because he probably would have had a ball making it. He especially would have liked Bigelow's creepy editorial cutaways to people watching the main characters from afar.
The story follows a rather crazed, adrenaline-hungry sergeant played by a similarly crazed Jeremy Renner who likes to do everything pretty much on his own, without the protective gloves. He wants things on his terms in spite of his practical second-in-command being of the same rank. That means that Hitchcock's "ticking time clock" formula also applies to the men as well. As a spectator, you do not know when things are going to start to get out of hand between the three of them (including their young specialist who believes he is going to die at any minute). Renner, for the most part, reminds me a lot of Sean Penn here. He is a kind of nutty, unhinged, confusing man you wouldn't want anywhere near you. The film also sports fascinating cameos from Ralph Fiennes, David Morse, and Guy Pearce. Since they are well known actors, the audience can almost find recognition to these acquaintances.
By comparison, our heroes are strangers, and we almost feel more comfortable staying with the comfortably familiar faces. Renner's character also has an interesting sensitive side that motivates his need to do things away from the others. When he THINKS a young Iraqi boy has become a victim to someone in the area, he leaves the base, like Fiennes' secret agent, to get retribution. But what kind of retribution is he looking for and why is he a consistent antithesis to everything the training tells him? Paranoia is total awareness...? Kathryn Bigelow fills the screen with haunting visuals and intense high-speed photography; creating some of the most seething slow-motion I have seen. Like Taking Chance, this film takes a neutral approach to war, once again proving it is the only approach to war without alienating your audience with politics. War is alienating enough.