Based on recently declassified information, The Hurt Locker follows the story of a U.S. Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit operating in Iraq in 2004. The team consists of three individuals: two grunts who provide cover and security during bomb defusing operations, and the team leader who puts on a bomb-suit like a superman cape to examine and neutralize a seeming endless supply of IEDs across their area. After the previous leader was killed in action, SFC. James is assigned to the unit and immediately demonstrates a recklessness reserved for psychopaths and deities. Because of this and the constant risk of catastrophe inherent in trying to defuse mammoth amounts of explosives, the entire movie is like an adrenaline drip-- so intense it quickly gets uncomfortable. The film also demonstrates a dramatic, though very matter-of-fact realist view of the war, making it closer perhaps to a documentary than a war thriller. In fact, since the basis of the movie is Pentagon documents and not the product of a writer's imagination, its portrayal of military operations and personal is apparently very realistic, making the movie, therefore, rather educational.
The plot is another story. The Hurt Locker somehow achieved the rare feat of what I will term "plot singularity." That is, the plot only exists in the immediate present. There is no long term goal motivating action, no theme of story, no objective to their missions besides what they are doing in that exact instant. A character says "let's go", and they immediately start going. The Sargent finds a bomb, and immediately starts disarming it. In a way, the entire script could be reduced to a series of verbs in the present progressive tense. Perhaps that was the point: the way things are on the ground in Iraq. Or perhaps it was laziness. I don't know.
For being so tremendously hyped, I was disappointed at what I saw. As there was no plot ot speak of, there was no reason to stay in the theater. The entire movie was one gigantic tense fight scene from a blockbuster, which made for uncomfortable viewing and little relief. It was artsy in ways that were likely not true-to-form and which it didn't need to be (see: showering off blood while wearing full uniform, including many electronic components). There was also a touch of magical realism here (in the extremely lucky and headstrong Sergeant First Class) that may enhance the portrayal of actual combat, but doesn't work well in a movie.
I see The Hurt Locker as a modern day, cinematic All Quiet on the Western Front, which makes it required viewing for the understanding of war, especially the one in Iraq, but unfortunately not for a great "movie."