An apolitical film about the war in Iraq, The Hurt Locker is a stark, powerful glimpse into what could be the most dangerous work of the American soldier.

Set in Baghdad in 2004, The Hurt Locker focuses on Bravo company, an army unit whose job is primarily to disarm or detonate explosive devices left by insurgents. As we see from the opening scene, the automated robot can't do everything -- and the thick protective suit doesn't guarantee survival, as Sergeant Thompson (Guy Pearce) unfortunately proves when a bomb is set off.

Thompson's replacement is Staff Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner), a near-celebrity who's disarmed over 870 bombs. He's also reckless, ignoring the robot and ditching his protective gear as he wishes. Sergeant JT Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) is a by-the-book soldier whose job is to protect James despite his risks. Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) is somewhere between the two, neither as gung-ho as James nor as uptight as Sanborn.

Baghdad is as much a character as the soldiers -- and the city is a terrifying place. In the world of Bravo company, every piece of trash could hide an IED, every spectator could be waiting to detonate an explosive. Anyplace else and the soldiers would be paranoid; here, it keeps them alive.

Unlike many war movies, The Hurt Locker never discusses whether the American role is good or bad. Bravo company simply does its job every day -- James defusing bombs, Sanborn and Eldridge watching through their rifles for trouble -- and the movie occasionally tells us how many days are left in their tour.

Tension permeates The Hurt Locker. The atmosphere is, even with moments of humor, one where peril is a continuing companion. Director Kathryn Bigelow gets the most from the actors, making them three-dimensional characters who, despite serious differences, are ready in an instant to do their duty. The Hurt Locker doesn't give any easy answers or opinions; instead it is a harrowing look at a place and a duty most of us can barely imagine.

Overall grade: A+
Reviewed by James Lynch

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