Fictitious countdown of the final six weeks in the twelve-month tour of an army bomb squad in Baghdad. The living and working conditions in a color-free wasteland appear perfectly credible, and the quasi-science-fictional details of the job — the spaceman protective suits, the remote-control bomb-sniffing robot, the tangle of colored wires, the hide-and-seek triggers — are highly enlightening. And the defusing of bombs — the constant prospect of their blowing up in our faces — carries a guaranteed tension, as witness such forerunners as Robert Aldrich’s Ten Seconds to Hell or Michael Powell’s and Emeric Pressburger’s The Small Back Room. The ambush in mid-desert, outside the squad’s normal sphere of operations, is if anything even tenser: more unpredictable, more open to possibilities. Kathryn Bigelow, one of the rare female action directors, dead-set on matching any man in muscle, favors here the combat-footage filmmaking style of jostles and jars to the camera, punchy zooms, whiplashing pans, and a chronic shaky hand, not necessarily restricted to scenes of combat. This is trendy at best, a tired cliché at worst. (The amplified heartbeat and the slo-mo explosion ought to be put to bed for a rest period of not less than a generation.) She takes a lot of time on the action scenes, or more broadly the tension scenes, and not much time in between, so that the three principals — Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty, each of them looking the part — are thin on character, static in development, no more than generic as opposed to individual soldiers. With Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes, David Morse. (2008) — Duncan Shepherd
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