For the first 45 or 50 minutes of Kathryn Bigelow‘s The Hurt Locker, it’s all tension and anxiety, tension and anxiety. Plus a little tension and anxiety.

It’s basically about Jeremy Renner‘s Sgt. James, a bomb-defusing expert but more fundamentally a danger freak and an adrenalin junkie. He doesn’t like flirting with the possibility of being blown to bits — he loves it, or at least the feeling of momentary triumph when he overcomes that threat.

The other two members of the bomb-defusal team — Anthony Mackie‘s Sgt. Sanborn and Brian Gerahty‘s Specialist Eldridge — don’t love flirting with death and pretty much hate James’ recklessness, and there’s the basis of the dramatic conflict.

And then David Morse‘s Colonel Reed arrives on the scene and offers a little comic relief. He’s not appalled by James’ hot-dog behavior — he’s half-amused, perversely tickled, tee-hee. “Well, that’s just hot shit,” he says to James, grinning and beaming like a fan. “You’re a wild man…you know that?”

My favorite moment comes when he asks James how many bombs he’s defused, and James tries to deflect. Reed is having none of it: “Sergeant, I asked you a question.” What follows is pure hilarity, pure relief. Every tension-wracked film needs a guy like Reed to pop in sooner or later.

Said this ten years ago, saying it again: The Hurt Locker needed to end with Renner staring at the rows of cereal boxes in the supermarket. We didn’t need to see him go back to Iraq. The cereal boxes said it all.