DVD Release Date:  January 12, 2010
Theatrical Release Date:  July 10, 2009 (wide)
Rating:  R (for war violence and language)
Genre:  War, Drama
Run Time:  131 min.
Director:  Kathryn Bigelow
Actors:  Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty, Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes, David Morse, Hasan Darwish, Christopher Sayegh, Evangeline Lilly, Christian Camargo

The list of Iraq War dramas that have failed at the box office is long, and the critical assessment of those films has sometimes been as apathetic as the general public's level of interest.

In the Valley of Elah was well reviewed and pulled a Best Actor Oscar nomination for Tommy Lee Jones, but couldn't break $7 million at the gate. Kimberly Peirce's Stop-Loss stopped short of $11 million. Brian de Palma's Redacted, the director's unapologetic attack on U.S. troops, may represent the nadir of Iraq War movies. The hostility that greeted the film's release generated plenty of publicity, but the film's box-office take of $65,000 (the film's estimated budget was $5 million) disproved the adage that "all press is good press." Critics mostly rejected the film.

The negative tone of these Iraq War dramas matched the mood of the opinion leaders leading up to the 2004 election, when so many of the films were in production or in release. Only Michael Moore's anti-George W. Bush documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 struck a chord with the public—especially 2004-era blue-state voters, who drove Moore's documentary to record grosses of $119 million.

The broader U.S. public, however, wasn't as ready to throw in the towel on the Iraq War as were the men and women behind these films, which, whatever their merits (Stop-Loss and Fahrenheit 9/11 were effective in stretches, if not wholly satisfying), are already badly dated—focusing on a Donald Rumsfeld-led strategy that has since been discarded in favor of a troop "surge" that helped shift the war's momentum in a positive direction.

Key to the success of the The Hurt Locker is that its agenda is neither pro-war nor anti-war. Instead, the film is a look at the psychology of the men who go to war, and especially of those who willingly take part in the most dangerous aspects of conflict. Yet in The Hurt Locker, even the psychological aspect takes a back seat to the sheer adrenaline of battle—the way tension can mount quickly in a foreign setting, where the enemy can emerge, armed, from behind a building, or appear as an innocent-looking civilian with a cell phone in hand.

The film focuses on the insurgents' most effective lethal weapon—the improvised explosive device, or IED—and the men whose task it is to defuse the bombs. The destructive power of IEDs is displayed early in the film, taking the life of one of the men in the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) squad. He's replaced by Staff Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner), who, along with Sgt. J.T. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty), will be the focus of the film for much of its two hour-plus running time.

The trio has fewer than 40 days left in its rotation, but each day brings ample opportunity for a bad ending—from the IEDs or from armed enemy fighters. While James wrestles with the IEDs, Sanborn and Eldridge keep watch, radioing James with updates on suspicious individuals and the level of hostility among the townspeople.