The film literally opens with a bang as we see Bravo Company, made up of three members of the Army's elite Explosive Ordinance Disposal squad, attempt to diffuse a roadside bomb with disastrous results. Surviving team members Sgt. J.T. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Spc. Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) are left to continue their perilous work under the direction of a new squad leader, Staff Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner), who immediately clashes with Sanborn, a by-the-book soldier who has no patience for James' cowboy antics. As it turns out, James has much to lose back home—an infant son and woman who loves him—but you wouldn't know it by James' fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants antics while in uniform.
All three leads are excellent, especially Renner, who is entirely convincing as a man obsessed with getting the job done, no matter the consequences. After nearly blowing himself up while dismantling a complicated car bomb, he simply says, "That was good," and means it. Also great is Mackie as a soldier who believes that the best way to stay alive is to follow procedure, no matter what—something that his superior officer constantly challenges. Geraghty, as the junior man on the team, is convincing as an innocent young soldier traumatized by the violence he has witnessed and participated in.
Kathryn Bigelow's direction of Mark Boal's script, based on Boal's hands-on research in Iraq, is excellent. Her use of shaky handheld camera shots, tight close-ups, and fast-paced editing superbly matches the subject matter and gives the audience an appropriate claustrophobic feel and a sense of immediacy that makes us feel as if we are, at times, watching a documentary. Unfortunately, it was distracting to throw such recognizable actors as Fiennes, David Morse, Guy Pearce, and Evangeline Lilly into supporting roles, as it instantly reminds us that, alas, it's only a movie—and the filmmakers probably needed such name actors aboard to secure financing.
Written by: Mark Boal
Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty