A badly wounded Iraqi is denied any chance for survival as the superior officer (David Morse with just the right amount of unflinching steel in his tone) informs the medic “He’s not going to make it.”
A 12-year-old boy (precociously played by Christopher Sayegh)—a base rat who revels in selling pirated DVDs and playing soccer with the troops—seems to have swallowed a bomb whole before it is brutally, bloodily neutered.
A well-intentioned army shrink (Christian Camargo is saddled with the overly-naive storyline but does all that’s required of him) moves beyond the relative safety of the wire only to learn just how dangerous the so-hard-to-spot-them-without-a-uniform Iraqi insurgents can be.
A squad of for-hire contractors (led with grit and devil-may-care determination by Ralph Fiennes) battles in the desert with seemingly-invisible sharpshooters leaving plenty of blood from both sides on the sand.
A death-obsessed gunner (Brian Geraghty excels as he fights the enemy within as much as with those who would rejoice in his sudden death) counts the days of his rotation, hoping and praying he’ll live to be sent home.
A by-the-book sergeant (Anthony Mackie gives a beautifully modulated performance from plotting the death of a rogue colleague to wondering if he’ll ever be ready to father a son) struggles to keep his bomb-diffusing unit together and his own skin intact.
A constant risk-seeker (Jeremy Renner is nothing short of brilliant as the upstart renegade) feeds off putting himself in harm’s way—even if that means unnecessarily bringing his team to death’s greedy door.
A lot of the bad guys—seen by their IED handiwork or, occasionally up-close-and-personal—provide a few moments of cinematic perspective (every frame is a pearl thanks to the skills of veteran Barry Ackroyd and the taut editing by Chris Innis and Bob Murawaski) but are mostly present to wreak havoc with the freedom fighters.
All of these folk populate Mark Boal’s fast-moving script, where every step of the way seems fraught with some sort of deadly or emotional peril. If there’s any weakness, it stems from the largely-predictable characterizations and, one hopes, the inability of the U.S. Army to ride herd on a daredevil who has such blatant disregard for his fellow soldiers and whose hot-headed, reckless actions could very well have produced another shot heard around the world.
With such an able cast and crew, director Kathryn Bigelow had everything she needed to come up with a defining war movie for the twenty-first century. And she very nearly succeeds in enlarging on the awful notion that “war is a drug.” Digging a little deeper into the story-behind-the-story might have provided this excellent film with a truly knockout punch: If war is a drug, then shouldn’t its insidious pushers be stopped in their tracks? JWR