The Hurt Locker seems almost effortless at getting its many points across. Perhaps because it isn’t really trying. The problem with most of the Iraq war films up to know is they had specific political agendas. War was bad, or war was good, or the Iraqi’s are bad, and torture is bad and – well no-one ever said what was good about war. This is a war being fought without conscripted soldiers, why on earth do they do it?

Katheryn Bigelow’s film gives one suggestion, for at least one type of soldier. A non-starry threehander really, the standout character is SSgt William James, a bomb disposal expert played by Jeremy Renner. A classic movie type, the maverick, breaking the rules and an adrenaline junkie. He is, by the rules of movies, clearly the hero. Except that in a film where breaking the rules is constantly putting other people in danger (in particular his team whose job it is to look after him) things are a lot more complex. Bigelow aims at presenting a naturalistic portrayal of this aspect of army service, though is more than happy to play with as many cinematic clichés as it can as contrast. As such Bigelow builds up remarkable suspense for sequences which often comprise of not much more than a man putting an armoured suit on and walking down a street.

It works mainly because the characters fascinate. It works because this setting is alien to us, and alien to the characters too. They go out, diffuse bombs without thanks, and everyone is a potential enemy. A sense of futility hangs over their actions, contrasted with the clear life saving work that is done. And why do it all, why do it all again – as the film shows for one character – because its the only thing that makes you feel alive. And Bigelow succeeds where others have failed because she is most interested in creating these lives in the first place.

(I love that Brazilian poster above, which has the name of probably the three biggest actors in the film, notwithstanding that all of their roles are cameos!)