July 24, 2009 at 1:00 am

Tom Long Film Review: 'The Hurt Locker' -- GRADE: B+

'The Hurt Locker': A tense addiction to war

Jeremy Renner as Staff Sgt. William James in "Hurt Locker." (Summit Entertainment)

In "The Hurt Locker," the captivating new film by Kathryn Bigelow, a clock is always ticking, an explosion of some kind is always only moments away, death and danger are constant companions.

Oddly enough, they're welcome companions for Staff Sgt. William James (the terrific Jeremy Renner, in what should be a career-making turn). James is addicted to the adrenaline of war, and he's certainly found the right job for scoring his daily rush.

James is part of a bomb squad working in the Iraq War. He comes to his new partners -- played by Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty -- after they've seen the devastation a bomb can cause, and then proceeds to terrify them with his cowboy ways. It's mad enough that he puts himself in harm's way just for the fun of it, but he's also putting them in danger.

Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal aren't really offering up a standard story here, a dramatic progression that arcs and releases. Instead, they're simply following these three soldiers as they try to survive a nasty desert war punctuated with bombs built into cars, bombs left along a roadside, bombs placed inside human corpses.

As with most war films there's a countdown toward the day the men will get to go home that hangs like an ax over their heads. Pull one wrong wire and that day never comes.

It's tense stuff well tendered and the ever-macho Bigelow ("Point Break") is just the woman to explore such dark and sweaty corners. But in the end, the adrenaline addiction is somewhat self-explanatory and a bit limiting dramatically.

The question isn't how do you live with the buzz of looming death; it's how do you live without it? No answers are offered, or even suggested.

tlong@detnews.com">tlong@detnews.com (313) 222-8879