The official blog of American Veteran Magazine, the national quarterly publication of AMVETS.

Monday, March 1, 2010

How "Hurt Locker" Missed the Mark

*I want to warn that this posting contains some language that may be offensive. I felt it necessary to explain my true feelings on the critically-acclaimed film.

Recently, I had the opportunity to discuss the Oscar-nominated film "Hurt Locker" with the Washington Post. While the movie was frustrating on a number of levels for any veteran of the Iraq conflict, I feel as though legitimate criticisms were shrugged off by film industry experts, who only seem interested in patting each other on the back over Mark Boal's supposed "near perfect" war film.

Sure, filmmakers take artistic license with their subject matter, and Boal admits he took some licenses to make his film more entertaining for the 99 percent of Americans completely disengaged from the current wars.

However, one critical analysis I found missing from the Washington Post story was that the character of Sgt. 1st Class William James was poorly developed.

Before the film opens, the audience learns that war is a drug. Understandable. I've seen it myself. Friends who deployed alongside me in Iraq couldn't wait to return to the fight once our tour was over. In "Hurt Locker," the audience doesn't learn this about James until the last scene in the movie. Even then, it left me conflicted about how I was supposed to feel about the film's main character.

For the two hours leading up to James' homecoming, I felt he was an irresponsible, brash, self-centered shit head--a shining example of the Army's "Fuck Up, Move Up" program. War can be an addiction, but something has to cause it. We never learn what that is for James. He never explains it to his teammates—never mentions his prior experiences. Nothing. At one point, James nonchalantly boasts that he has disarmed hundreds of bombs. Great, you're awesome, Sgt. James. When did you do this? Why? How has it affected you? What happened that caused your supposed addiction to war?

All in all, the inaccuracies were annoying and the poor portrayals of military leadership were insulting to any modern veteran, but the story, itself, was poorly constructed--never explaining the film’s premise.

Boal insists that his film was not supposed to depict real life, but rather an exaggeration of realistic events. He failed at this, too, and to demonstrate I must compare it to the upcoming film "Green Zone" with Matt Damon. From the trailer, "Green Zone" allows the viewer to immediately suspend disbelief, recognizing that Damon's character is a machination of Hollywood inspiration—a Superman-type accomplishing ridiculous feats in the easily-recognizable war zone. "Hurt Locker" never detaches itself from its realistic settings, and critics didn't care to notice.

New York Times, Time Magazine and scores of other major media outlets praised the film's realistic portrayal of the war in Iraq--assertions that immediately disqualify Boal's statements that he intended to make simply an action flick set in the war zone.

In the Washington Post story, Columbia University film professor David McKenna said that if veterans did not like the movie, they should make their own. Again, the film industry insiders are missing the point. Today's veterans love nothing more than a good contemporary war flick. We usually eat them up.
“Jarhead,” “Generation Kill,” “Black Hawk Down,” “Taking Chance," even “Three Kings” and “In the Army Now” had their redeeming qualities.

Over the weekend, New York Times writer Melena Ryzik accused the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans’ community of launching a smear campaign against “Hurt Locker” in the wake of acceptance speeches from Boal and director Katheryn Bigelow critical of the Iraq war. To be honest, I don’t watch award shows and could care less about their thoughts on American foreign policy. I’d rather watch “Family Guy,” or Food Network on my Sunday nights. I just thought “Hurt Locker” was a bad movie.

After reading the reviews and hearing of the critical acclaim, I was genuinely excited to watch “Hurt Locker” when it became available On Demand in January. I expected something reminiscent of “Black Hawk Down” or “Jarhead.” A friend of mine, Patrick Murray, a Marine Corps veteran wounded in Iraq, set aside a night of Buffalo wings and beer to watch it.

The film started off well enough, until Sgt. 1st Class James entered the picture. Murray and I were screaming at the TV for the next two hours as the action became more and more preposterous and the storyline became increasingly disjointed and confusing. We had to shut it off more than three times and only finished the film to see how the train-wreck ended—wondering if we should call Comcast and demand our money back.

In many ways, Boal's multiple miscues and misplaced artistic licenses are a disservice to Bigelow, whose direction magically recreated the war time environment down to some of the smallest details. Through her lens, she was able to evoke the feeling of what life was like with boots on the ground--an eerie feeling for any Iraq war veteran. Unfortunately, there's only so much you can polish a turd.

The “Hurt Locker” was a complete failure on so many levels, which is why I was disappointed to see it garner so much acclaim at the recent British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) awards--especially for best screenplay--meaning it will likely garner similar acclaim at the Oscars this Sunday.

I can only hope in the future Hollywood takes better care of this subject. After all, the true measure of any good war film is how that conflict's veterans receive it.

To read Christian Davenport's story in the Washington Post on veterans' reaction to "Hurt Locker," Click Here.

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  1. Thank you for your honest critique. I am leary about any war movie made by someone who's goal is to discredit the war and the soldiers who served. The movie was highlighted on 60 Minutes last night, which is where I heard of it. The Director, admittedly anti-war, suggested she is pro-troop. But when a movie neglects to study the troops who have served, before being created, and then is unsettling to those who served (such as yourself), I cannot consider a symbol of troop support. This is one movie, along with Avatar (the Director's ex-husband's movie) that I will not see.
    Yours in Freedom,
    Sara Crusade - Army Vet, Cold War