The director of this film was Kathryn Bigelow, who among her credits can claim: Point Break, K-19: The Widowmaker, Mission Zero, Stange Days, as well as 3 episodes of Homicide: Life on the Street. Now I'm not going to claim to be knowledgeable about her, or recite such plattitudes as: "Oh yes, I'm a big fan of her work...", or worse (and far more hypocritical), hold her up in comparison to other directors I know even less. I wouldn't know the lady if I tripped over her. I mention her name here simply because it ought to be known. As a director, she did a masterful job with this movie. The movie itself provides a stark, thoroughly unglamorous (and thereby fairly accurate) look at the day-to-day insanity of an EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) team, as it tries to survive it's rotation in Iraq.
Each scene is a microcosm of life as it must be for those who are forced to live it here, on a grinding, mindlessly exhausting daily basis. The heat, the confusion, the suspicion, the frustration and the brutality of it all, are exceedingly well presented. There were so many little instances, frozen moments, which were recognizable, that could be verified, identified with. The interplay between the characters, each one totally different from the next, yet whose lives (and fates) were inescapably interwoven. I was pleased by the knowing display of inter-service rivalry and competitiveness, contempt and jealousy (US Army vs. Rangers) exhibited by the main protagonists. Jeremy Renner was brilliant in his portrayal as Ranger S/Sgt. William James. He's the FNG, newly-arrived following the untimely death of his predecessor. He may be new to this company, but he outranks his US Army counterpart, played by Anthony Mackie. He is also vastly experienced in 'wearing the suit', with well over 800 'disarms' to his operational credit. His experience at times makes him appear reckless.
Anthony Mackie was equally convincing in his role as Sgt. J.T.Sanborn. He at once despises and envies his Ranger counterpart, played by Renner. Sanborn is the cautious, by-the-book NCO who views life in Iraq as a never-ending shitstorm. He just wants to make it out alive. The experiences they survive will forge a bond of brotherhood between them, despite their differences. Brian Geraghty rounded out the group as Spc. Owen Eldridge. He is the frightened youngster, still so unsure about the very basics of soldiering but who finally comes to grips with their reality when he is forced to kill an enemy insurgent, in order to protect his buddies. Just as he is hitting his stride, he is wounded in a firefight and sent home.
Every scene captures the unbearable tension of existing in a land, where every person is a possible hostile. Where the enemy is ever-present, yet indistinguishable. Add to this the very nature of the EOD's raison-d'être, and you have a movie which is pretty much guaranteed to keep you on the edge of your seat. Ralph Fiennes puts in a surprise cameo appearance, in a scene which I will not detail. It involves a sniper duel, where for as much as they attempt to portray the damage which is inflicted by a .50 caliber Barrett semi-auto sniper rifle, it is the only scene which falls short of the mark in the entire movie.
Some actual .50 cal sniping footage taken in Afghanistan is available at the URL below. It has been credited to the Marines, but I have no idea which unit(s) were actually involved here. It could very well have been our own Canadian lads. I'm warning you, it's fairly graphic. And yes, that's someone's shoulder and arm that you see spinning off into space... Few people understand the type of kinetic forces involved here, when a bullet of that size, travelling at that velocity, hits a soft target like a human being... It simply liquifies it.
So I would have to end by saying yes, if you're looking for a movie that would typify and certainly not glorify operations in Iraq (or any other middle eastern locale...), this should certainly fit the bill. It also provides an insight as to how war can and does profoundly change individuals who are involved in it. Yet, in ways that at times might surprise us.
I thought this was a great movie (as in not filled with Hollywood bullshit, inaccuracies and hype...) and I might even consider buying a copy for my very small, very exclusive collection at home. High praise indeed...
Cheap nights at the movies... Ya gotta love 'em.