by Jefferson Robbins It's either a shame or a blessing for Kathryn Bigelow's tense Iraq War drama The Hurt Locker to emerge now rather than in 2004, the year of its setting. Back then, war fury was all the rage and might have doomed the movie--we had to believe that invading Iraq was the right thing to do, or why else had we buried 1,100 soldiers by the time George W. Bush won reelection? But just the same, we could have used this reminder of the casualties who were still walking and drawing breath. Seldom squeamish about sharing tight spaces with sweaty males, Bigelow climbs into the Humvee with the "Blasters" of the Bravo Company bomb squad as they defuse IEDs in occupied Baghdad. Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner) is rotated into an existing bomb unit to replace a technician pulped by a shockwave (Guy Pearce, first unrecognizable, then dead); James keeps his captured bomb triggers in a crate under his bunk--the locker of the title, though so could Iraq as a whole be. For their part, his new teammates are sorting through guilt over their fellow's demise (Brian Geraghty's Specialist Own Eldridge) or clinging to safety measures and protocols (Anthony Mackie's Sgt. J.T. Sanborn) that James knows can't possibly save him every time. Each disabled bomb is a sexual rush, calling for a cigarette afterward. He can't not accept the challenge, even that of a bomb stitched into a child's dead body. For all three men, the homefront--where James has an estranged wife (Evangeline Lilly) and a baby--is at best an abstraction, at worst a distraction from their own hovering doom. In their life in the camp, they are in death, with practically every interior (even the auto pool) a stark, institutional white, like Heaven's crappy waiting room. Bigelow, getting claustrophobically close with her camera and working from Mark Boal's eloquent but unflashy script, maintains a grenade-pin tension in the bombwork scenes but, surprisingly, lets out too much slack as James tries to take the fight to the hidden triggermen who detonate their payloads from afar. Ralph Fiennes cameos as a British merc who gets the Blasters tangled up in a sniper duel, leading to Bigelow's most effective image: while the gunmen lie in wait for the enemy to slip from cover, flies nestle on their faces, as if these men who rushed to embrace war are already dead.