Prepare yourself for a new look at the Iraq War. In the hands of director Kathryn Bigelow (Near Dark, Strange Days, Blue Steel), we spend several missions among one of the elite squads of bomb and IED defusers, and it's a gathering of nailbitingly tense moments. Bravo Company gets called in to handle the big booms, and it's a rotating array of stunning performances (Jermey Renner and Anthony Mackie in particular) and big name chop suey.
Bigelow is frequently acclaimed as one of the most gifted female filmmakers in the world, as if that qualified epithet weren't incredibly insulting. She's one of the most gifted filmmakers working today, period. That she works primarily in the field of action and genre films makes her work harder to pin down and seemingly less respectable in the eyes of much of the critical establishment, but even that cannot diminish her rock-solid hand behind the viewfinder.
Built on a foundation of in-depth art, sculpture, and photography training, Bigelow's films put ninety percent of what passes for action cinema to shame just by being able to convey physical space in a manner that allows the viewer to understand the physical planes on which the film's action is unfolding. In The Hurt Locker, Bigelow emphasizes neither incomprehensible kinesis nor widescreen vistas to ground the viewer in the now of war.
She focuses on the routines of men at work; in that way, one could find a thematic throughline with both Claire Denis' Beau Travail and Michael Mann's recent (and sorely underrated) Public Enemies, though Bigelow's take is much more accessible and visceral than either of those films. It's the first cinematic representation of the Iraq War that doesn't feel tented up by a specific political agenda or ideology, rather an exploration of what a life under fire does to the human mind.