The Hurt Locker is a serious character study and a taut, suspenseful action thriller at once.
The subject matter itself - the work of a bomb expert, possibly one of the most nerve-racking jobs on the planet - yields most of the suspense but Bigelow manages to squeeze out every bit of tension of the premise.
This film to me was very apolitical - though set in Iraq, it is distinguished from most of the Iraq-themed war films in that it concentrates much more on the job itself than the political environment. Iraq seemed more like a backdrop - any other war would do, The Hurt Locker does not preach about this one specifically.
The story is deeply emotional, depicting a thoroughly disturbed individual's life in hell. Jeremy Renner gives an incredibly powerful performance as an EOD officer completely hooked on adrenaline stemming from his everyday close shaves with death.
All aspects of film-making are top-notch, from the brilliantly subversive screenplay through vivid cinematography, masterful directing and perfectly paced editing.
In its storytelling the filmmakers wisely break with traditional Hollywood narrative techniques. There is no clear antagonist, no rising action, no obvious character development and no climax. And yet the film manages to be more interesting, tense and suspenseful than any Hollywood action thriller I've seen in years while making a powerful, yet subtle statement about the insane addiction that is war. Kudos for everyone involved for making this film without compromising.
This is pure quality, cinematic storytelling at its best, a thinking man's actioner