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When Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner) takes over an elite, highly trained team of bomb disposal specialists in the middle of a violent conflict in Iraq, his two subordinates, Sergeant J.T. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) find they have more than the enemy to contend with. James appears to be indifferent to death and refuses to follow the rules.

Review by Louise Keller:
An intense, harrowing and unforgettable look at everyday life in a US bomb disposal unit in Iraq, it is impossible not to be affected by Kathryn Bigelow's relentlessly powerful film. The difference between life and death is a hair's breadth. There are stories within the story: incidents that take us inside the war zone into precarious, explosive situations. Bigelow yanks us by the scruff of the neck and unceremoniously dumps us in the middle of the action. It is tough going; at times I had to look away. Screenwriter Mark Boal has crafted his story based on his own observations while assigned to a special bomb unit and this is not a film that focuses on explosions alone. Bigelow concentrates on the people involved and their personal response to the critical situations in which they find themselves. As a result, the film hurts like hell as we sit on the edge of our seats enveloped in tension.

They say that stressful situations bring out the best and the worst in people. This film attests to that as we meet the young men who form part of this elite band of soldiers who shoulder the responsibility to disarm bombs in the most precariously dangerous combat situations. Can war be a fix for the adrenalin junkie? Rowdy or reckless? Is the question asked of Jeremy Renner's 'wild man' Sergeant William James ('Be all you can be'), who promises to do his best and not to replace the outgoing head of command, recently killed in action. The burning core of the film is about what makes him tick as he defies rules and does things his way. He may not be good with people, but he is a warrior of heroic proportions. His character is the hardest to work out and by far the most complex. The hotter the situation, the cooler he becomes. The scene when he is faced by a young boy used as a body bomb leaves us reeling. It's a tour de force performance for Renner (28 Weeks Later, The Assassination of Jesse James) who delivers a character acutely aware of the potency of the two options offered by life's daily dice game. Anthony Mackie is especially good as Sanborn, one of James' subordinates who is only half-joking when he suggests to his colleague Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) they kill their superior. We are there for their personal journeys, too.

All the performances are faultless, including small, impactful roles from Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes and David Morse. In no way does Bigelow glorify war; every second eats away at our soul. One tense situation is resolved; another one begins. There are tragic parallels between the animal-meat carcasses carried to the markets with the shattered bodies lying in the barren desert sand. The tension is almost unbearable as we get a real sense of life on the streets in war-torn Iraq. Beyond the dynamite-charged situation is the equally charged psychological one. It's curious that this supremely masculine story is told by a woman, which is perhaps one of the reasons why it is not only filled with grit, but also deeply grounded in the language of humanity.

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(US, 2009)

CAST: Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty, Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes, David Morse, Evangeline Lilly, Nabil Koni,

PRODUCER: Mark Boal, Kathryn Bigelow, Nicolas Chartier, Greg Shapiro

DIRECTOR: Kathryn Bigelow

SCRIPT: Mark Boal


EDITOR: Chris Innis, Bob Murawski

MUSIC: Marco Beltrami, Buck Sanders


RUNNING TIME: 132 minutes



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