The trio at the center of the film—Staff Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner), Sergeant J.T. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty)—are soldiers we rarely ever see or witness. James is the wildcard who parachutes in when the original bomb tech is, well, blown up. The shy Eldridge, who barely gets out alive, is along for the wild ride. He’s not addicted to the potent cocktail of arms and violence like James and Sanborn. And as pumped as Sanborn can get, he is an amateur compared to the adrenaline-embossed, reckless James. Is James trying to commit suicide when he breaks protocol while dealing with explosive devices? Maybe. But you can’t take your eyes off of him.
There is an undertow of testosterone and racial animus in the way James and Sanborn consistently clash. But it never colors the story. Critics of the film say there is not enough narrative, and Bigelow, who I’ve been a fan of since 1987’s Near Dark, has just strung a series of disjointed scenes together.
But that is war. There is no coherent narrative. If you try to impose some grand design, you will have committed a deadly mistake. It’s something the late Robert McNamara learned way too late.
Nick Charles is a regular contributor to The Root.