The film ably crafts the message that in urban warfare all bets are off, that the only rule in modern-day combat is that there are no rules, and draws the viewer deep into the characters' tension-filled world. From the moment the team hears of a possible explosive device that must be diffused, as their truck winds its way through dangerous streets and alleys, as the look-outs scour their field of vision for suspicious movements, as the technician makes his way to the wires and the odd-looking lump on the rocky, dusty ground, we see every aspect of the scene from their perspective and feel their nerves and desperation. The reaction is visceral. I wouldn't be surprised if you jumped out of your seat once in a while or found yourself trying to brush off the dirt and grime off your clothes as you walked out of the theater.
Before The Hurt Locker I had never heard of its director, Kathryn Bigelow, and I was rather surprised to see Ralph Fiennes in a small role as the leader of a band of British mercenaries (which the protagonists end up fighting alongside in the middle of the desert), but apparently she is a prolific movie maker with a cult following, and they had both worked together in Strange Days as director and actor early in their careers.
The movie is certainly deserving of its nine Oscar nominations and with a win at the Directors' Guild Awards, it looks like Bigelow is well on her way to a Directors' Oscar as well. And I'm on my way to mining Netflix for more Bigelow movies.