Came upon this film quite by accident when I saw a trailer online. An Iraq war story, of which there have been many, but directed by one of my favourite directors Kathryn Bigelow. And she does so we her usual excellent style. Hardly any of the political grandstanding of many Iraq war films, this focuses on men (and they’re all men) doing their jobs, and how that job may become an obsession, the only way some people feel alive. This is told via a three man section of a bomb disposal unit, working the streets of Baghdad. Each day they are moments from death, and they continually scan the windows and doors and rooftops around them. Each day they go out and work on disposing or defusing IEDs, inches from death.
The opening quote is “…war is a drug” and this is what it has become for Staff Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner, brilliant), newly posted to this Baghdad unit. It would have been quite easy for this character to be the stereotype “gung-ho”, but Renner and Bigelow let us see deeper inside of him. Of course his attitude rubs Sergeant JT Sanborn (Anthony Mackie, excellent), a guy relaxed only when things go by the numbers. Between them is the young Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty), who idolises both men but can’t decide which side he wants to be on.
In a short part later in the film, Bigelow gives us an excellent portrayal of the confusion and out-of-placeness that some soldiers feel when they get home. Everything feels wrong to the character, and only when he’s back in Iraq does he feel comfortable.
Despite some flaws in military procedure (which only people with experience/knowledge would pick up) and a little bit of “spot the guest star” (Guy Pearce, David Morse, Ralph Fiennes all in cameos) and there being little “plot” per-se (which some reviewers take the film to task), this is an excellent character examination piece of men at war.