Picks and Pans Review: The Hurt Locker

updated 07/13/2009 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/13/2009 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie | R |

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CRITIC'S CHOICE

ACTION
If your fingernails are a little long, they won't be by the time you finish watching this nail-biter about American soldiers defusing roadside bombs in Iraq. The tension is high and the suspense extreme as swaggering Staff Sgt. William James (Renner, in a breakout performance) attempts to dismantle yet another bomb, knowing full well that if he doesn't work quickly enough or snips the wrong wire, he'll get blown to bloody smithereens just like the fellow who preceded him in the volunteers-only job.

Hollywood has so far had no luck with Iraq War films. Here's hoping Hurt Locker changes that. It deserves to be seen, both because of the you-are-there vividness of director Kathryn Bigelow's combat scenes and its probing look at the different ways war affects the psyches of the men fighting it. The hurt locker of the title? A box holding remnants of disabled bombs, which James keeps under his bed—mementos of his many close calls with death.

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