The Hurt Locker is by far Bigelow's high water mark. To be honest I was afraid in the first 1/2 hour of the film it would merely be a string of bomb disarmament scenes strung together with no real thread connecting them, as this is certainly the feel you initially get. But once the film has introduced its three main characters and their very distinct personalities it allows them to get closer, fall apart and get closer again--a natural process of many relationships.
The camera work is solid and crystal clear. The colors are spot on and nothing is either too dark (an issue with many films of late—OK, we get it...you're moody, things are bad...we don't need to squint at the screen to figure that out!!) or overly lit. The characters all appear appropriately dirty, sweaty, sun burned, etc. The film gets its "look" perfect.
The story itself is fantastic. It follows an explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) team throughout its time in Iraq and how each character faces its day to day stress. Though a number of former military members who have viewed the film have complained that it is not accurate in its portrayal of procedure and technique, that is not the point of the film. I think Bigelow's intention is merely to show the incredible levels of pressure these men are under and how only the borderline insane can rationally deal with the stress without it destroying him.
The pacing of the film is right there as well. It doesn't rush from one action sequence to the next and revels in its down moments, such as when the team is forced to wait out a potential sniper over the course of a very long day. Bigelow stays with the characters long enough to make you feel the slow passage of time.
Jeremy Renner and Anthony Mackie are the two main actors here and their selection is key. Relative unknowns you don't look at them as someone you know playing a role, they come to embody their characters and become one with them. Both Renner and Mackie play off each other well and I wouldn't be surprised if they really got on each others nerves during filming as the differences in their characters were so extreme.
With the expansion of the Oscar nominations this year to ten films for Best Picture, some films I actually enjoy rather than just appreciate are being nominated. This is one, another is District 9. Both were developed and filmed primarily outside the traditional Hollywood system and are both better off for it. The Hurt Locker is an excellent film and I could not recommend it more.