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Richard Allen Smith Headshot

The Hurt Locker: Inaccurate and Disrespectful

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I tuned in to the Oscars last night in hopes of seeing my favorite film of the year clean up. Critics lauded the performances in my favorite film, a movie about a close-knit team with unique characteristics engaging in combat in a far away land. I liked the film because it wasn't like most war movies with explosions left and right. This movie had actual character development, and walked a way last night with some hardware to show for it.

Yup, it was nice to see Inlourious Basterds' Cristoph Waltz win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

As for the other prominent war flick featured, I spent most of the evening wanting throw my empty bottles of stout at my flat screen as it seemed like every presenter came to the stage with the stated purpose of handing another statue to The Hurt Locker, and those recipients invoked the troops for their win. What was especially egregious was when the screenwriter accepted his award and rattled off some fudged troop numbers that in no way resembled the actual number of American service members in harm's way. As best I could tell, we got those numbers the same way he wrote his movie: completely made up, with no basis in reality.

Of course, the same could be said of Inglourious Basterds. No one would argue that its an accurate portrayal of World War II and the Holocaust, and that's exactly the point. No one ever claimed it to be accurate. Much of The Hurt Locker's praise, and indeed its marketing, was directed at its supposed "realism" and "accuracy". For example, look at this quote from the film's director, Kathryn Bigelow:

Bigelow firmly credits screenwriter Mark Boal for Locker's verisimilitude and accuracy. Boal spent seven weeks with a bomb unit in Iraq as an embedded reporter for Playboy, and his experiences there informed and shaped the story and characters portrayed in Locker.

City Paper: When did you get in involved with this project?

Kathryn Bigelow: From the beginning. I knew that when Mark came back from Iraq and had these extraordinary stories and information that I wanted to keep it as reportorial as possible--to keep it raw and immediate and visceral, to give the audience the opportunity to be inside this company, to be a real boots-on-the-ground look at combat.

Sorry, Kathryn. Epic fail on that.

The inaccuracies have been well documented previously by my fellow VoteVets bloggers. The movie isn't about your run of the mill EOD team. No, as Brandon put it, the movie is about something that doesn't exist: "an EOD/Ranger/sniper/commando/hero guy and his two sidekicks. Who apparently don't have access to radios. And who travel around Iraq by themselves. In fact, most of the scenes rely on oddly and unrealistically contrived situations to induce a stressful reaction from the audience."

That doesn't even discuss guys running through the streets of Baghdad at night in civies. Or James stating "Let's split up, we can cover more ground that way." Or soldiers wearing ACUs well before they were ever issued. Or long out of service Vietnam-era Hueys flying MEDEVAC missions.

But those aren't even the worst inaccuracies. What is truly disrespectful of service members, and what I thought of each time one the movie's crew members thanked the troops last night, was the portrayal of the EOD team as undisciplined, boozing, fighting children with no discipline or respect for the chain of command. I'll never forget my jaw dropping when Sgt Sanborn called SFC James, his superior noncommissioned officer, by his last name and then punched him in the face.

So as I depressingly lost most of my faith in humanity last night (this may be a bit of an exageration), that's what made me the sickest. Watching crew member after crew member get up and invoke the troops, as if they did something for us by making their fantasy tale of a movie. Yeah, they did something alright. Now, every person we encounter who hasn't served will think they understand us, because they happened to watch a work that is completely contrived fiction.

I'll be sure to tell them they should have watched Inglourious Basterds instead.