Since the U.S. invaded Iraq, a number of films have tried to evoke what it's like to be on the ground during the bloodiest conflict, and most have left viewers cold.

Since the U.S. invaded Iraq, a number of films have tried to evoke what it's like to be on the ground during the bloodiest conflict, and most have left viewers cold.

The Hurt Locker succeeds where others haven't, putting you in the boots of highly trained Army personnel. And since they're experts at defusing bombs, it's understandable if you shake in them.

The latest from director Kathryn Bigelow (Point Break), with a script by former embedded reporter Mark Boal, skips opening credits to go directly to the streets of Baghdad, where a member of a three-man EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) team becomes the latest casualty to an IED with a cell-phone detonator.

He's replaced by Staff Sergeant James (Jeremy Renner), who's defused almost 900 bombs in the field. The team has just over a month left in Iraq, and James seems the kind of loose cannon that could blow them all up in the meantime.

The filmmakers use these traditional action tropes to suck you in, then rely on a masterful balance of tight pacing, perfectly used handheld camerawork, genuine performances and remarkably intense atmosphere. The deadly stakes are palpable, though they're rarely stated explicitly. The politics within the film, and the questions about what we ask and hope for from our heroes, are handled with even more finesse.

If you're just up for action this will more than satisfy, but there's also something here to think about, once your heart stops pounding.