Hurt Locker sparks conflict with US military

Tech Sergeant Jeremy Phillips waits for his team members to prepare a detonation outside Forward...
Tech Sergeant Jeremy Phillips waits for his team members to prepare a detonation outside Forward Operating Base Garry Owen on Monday in Maysan Province, Iraq. (AP Photo/Matt Ford)
Oscar winner The Hurt Locker has set off a conflict within the military, report Julian E. Barnes, Ned Parker and John Horn, of the Los Angeles Times.

Many film critics have praised The Hurt Locker's depiction of the US military in Iraq, often singling out the bomb disposal drama for its authenticity.

• Playing at war 

But some active soldiers and veterans are attacking the movie for the very things the film's supporters admire, saying The Hurt Locker portrays soldiers as renegades and that it fails to represent details about combat accurately.

The criticism highlights the delicate relationship between The Hurt Locker and the nation's armed forces. Defence Secretary Robert M. Gates says the film is "authentic" and "very compelling" and has recommended it to his staff.

But the government says it pulled its Hurt Locker production assistance at the last minute in 2007, saying that the film's makers were shooting scenes that weren't in the screenplay submitted to the Defense Department, including a sequence that the Government believed showed troops unflatteringly. The film's producers dispute elements of the account.

While The Hurt Locker has numerous supporters within the military the movie's detractors share a consistent complaint about its representation of the army's Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team as they attempt to disarm improvised explosive devices.

The film, directed by Kathryn Bigelow and written by journalist Mark Boal (who embedded with a bomb disposal team), stars Jeremy Renner as Staff Sergeant William James. Not deterred by protocol or his own safety, James is an adrenaline-addicted bomb defuser who occasionally puts his unit at risk, and at one point takes to the streets of Baghdad on a solo personal mission.

Members of EOD teams in southern Iraq said in interviews arranged by the army that The Hurt Locker is a good action movie if you know nothing about defusing roadside bombs or the military.

Sgt Eric Gordon, an air force EOD technician on his second tour in Iraq, has watched the movie a few times with his friends.

"I would watch it with other EOD people, and we would laugh," Sgt Gordon said.

He scoffed at a scene in which a bomb is defused with wire cutters.

"It's similar to having a firefighter go into a building with a squirt bottle."

An EOD team leader in Maysan province, Staff Sgt Jeremy D. Phillips, said his "interest is bringing myself and my team members home alive, with all of our appendages in the right place".

While he was glad the film highlighted their trade, he disliked the celluloid treatment of EOD units. "There is too much John Wayne and cowboy stuff. It is very loosely based on actual events," he said.

"I'm honestly glad they are trying to convey to the public what we've been doing, and I wish maybe they had just done it with a little bit of a different spin on it," he said.

Others are more supportive. Purple Heart winner Drew Sloan, a former US army captain, said The Hurt Locker offered a perfect snapshot of modern conflict.

"This is what's going on for the men and women who are fighting this war," he said.

Jim O'Neil, the executive director of the EOD Memorial, which honours those who perish defusing bombs, was equally enthusiastic about the film's accuracy. "It's not just a movie," he said. "It's something that's actually occurring as we're sitting in these chairs."

Boal, who also produced The Hurt Locker, said the film was not intended to be a documentary or a training film.

"We certainly made creative choices for dramatic effect," he said. "But I hope the choices were made respectfully and conscientiously."

At one point, The Hurt Locker might have been made with government co-operation. But just 12 hours before Lt Col. J. Todd Breasseale was to fly to Jordan to serve as the army's technical adviser to The Hurt Locker, he said in an interview that he heard there might be problems.

A Jordanian official told him scenes were being shot that were not in the script the army had agreed to with Bigelow. Breasseale accused the producer of shooting a scene in which soldiers act violently toward detainees. (The military does not provide help to films depicting violations of the laws of war, unless the script shows their consequences.) He also charged that the production had driven a Humvee into a Palestinian refugee camp in order to film angry crowd scenes.

Breasseale, who is now deployed, saw The Hurt Locker on a laptop in Afghanistan with a soldier from one of the Army's EOD teams.

He conceded it was a great story and a "spectacular-looking movie. But if you're looking for realism and how military relationships really work, I believe she missed the mark," Breasseale said of Bigelow.

Others in the Pentagon's office overseeing work with Hollywood agree.

"The film-makers' interest in drama and excitement exceeded what we felt were reasonable realistic portrayals," said Philip M. Strub, the Pentagon's special assistant for entertainment media.

Boal said that while the production initially worked with the US military, it parted ways when it became clear they would not approve The Hurt Locker script. He said they did not sign a contract.

"The Department of Defense did not support the movie. And my understanding is that they did not support Platoon or The Deer Hunter," Boal said of two of the most revered movies about the Vietnam War. "I am OK with that outcome because I didn't want to change the script to suit them."

The top Pentagon official, Robert Gates, has a very positive view of the movie.

"This is the first Iraq war movie that he has liked, or for that matter seen," said Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell. "In looking at all previous films he thought they had too much of a political agenda.

"He just thought it was a very compelling, and what he thought was authentic portrayal of what life is like for many of our troops in Iraq. Of the films that have been done about this war, that is the most authentic."


Add a Comment