I'm not a military guy, so I can't speak to veracity or whatever. But as a movie guy — er, guy who watches movies and dreams of making them — I'll say that "The Hurt Locker" never really clicked for me. And it was for reasons you guys did a good job of articulating, I think. It's structured like a character piece, but the characters are so tightly wound as to be inscrutable. Like you guys said, parts of the movie are so freakin' suspenseful I nearly gave myself a cramp while I was watching it. And the bit with the Capri Sun was really nice. But overall, as a film … I've seen better. Seen worse too, but I've seen better.
Here's my thing about the Iraq war: "Apocalypse Now" was released in 1979, but production started on it in 1976, less than a year after the fall of Saigon. We're now nearly seven years past the official "end of major combat operations" in Iraq, or whatever you want to call it, but I don't think anybody right now can unambiguously state whether we've won or lost. I think that lack of a definitive conclusion one way or the other makes it hard for anybody to tell a story that's in the time and place of the Iraq war without being about the time and place of the Iraq war. I think "The Hurt Locker" did about as good a job as any film I know of being set in Iraq but not specifically about Iraq, but it was still tied down by geopolitics.
If it'd been up to me, I'd rather the whole subplot with the kid, Beckham, had been cut. Or, contrariwise, I wish it'd been a breaking point for James of some kind. Instead, it seemed to me that James got obsessed with the kid and made a series of, like, criminally bad choices because of it, and then … well, life goes on. I wanted to see some consequences from that, on a character level if not on a plot level.
Anyway, yeah. Good commentary.
Oh, and hey: a few years back I got to attend a private screening of "Gunner Palace" that Jon Powers held while he was promoting War Kids Relief. Matt's absolutely right: It's a film worth watching.