Now that The Hurt Locker has won so many awards and become a leading Oscar campaigner, it has come to the attention of the mainstream media that the film might not be as accurate as many critics and audiences had assumed.
Although it’s a terrific film and one that, unlike all other contemporary war movies, does no disservice to the troops, it does indeed include some things that most people who have served in Iraq or covered U.S. forces for a decent length of time would see as ridiculous:
1) You would never have a single humvee driving around Baghdad or into the desert. It just wouldn’t happen. It almost couldn’t happen.
2) The idea of a single U.S. soldier leaving a big FOB and running around town at night in his sweatshirt is extremely unlikely; finding his way back safely through the unmarked streets of a neighborhood he doesn’t know would be even more unlikely — in fact, virtually impossible.
3) The whole sniper scene with the Brit mercenaries/special-forces types is exciting but absurd. Among the things that someone should have told director Kathryn Bigelow is that the rounds from a big .50 caliber Browning sniper rifle would have gone right through the walls of the buildings in which the enemy snipers were hiding.
4) No Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team would be left alone in a school or at an explosion site, as happens several times in the film. These guys are precious and protected.
5) In real life, enlisted men and NCOs, including members of EOD teams, generally have to answer to officers, and they meet with them on a regular basis (the only exception being some elite special forces units).
The Hurt Locker presents an absurdly officer-less world — though this particular case is far less of a Hollywood-dumb cliché than David Simon’s Generation Kill, in which all but one of the officers of an entire Marine Recon battalion are idiots.
6) You would have to look very hard to find drunken U.S. soldiers in Iraq (especially EOD troops). At least when I was there, alcohol was pretty difficult get hold of as well as forbidden in theater.
7) In Baghdad and in other cities, you actually don’t constantly hear jet fighters roaring overhead unless you’re sitting outside an airbase.
That said, I would still say that The Hurt Locker is the best film yet made about the post 9-11 wars.
It is all the more of a remarkable achievement given that it was a fairly low budget movie – indeed, perhaps the first “indie” war movie. (It may be the case that they couldn’t afford to rent more than a couple of humvees when shooting in Jordan.)
Among the things that the film got surprisingly right:
1) Its version of Baghdad almost looks like the real thing (unlike the urban sequences in Generation Kill, whose makers fancifully imagined that Nasiriyah has tall buildings)
2) Unlike any other film — or non-military book — about the Iraq war, The Hurt Locker captures the bizarre, inexplicable, and often fatal ways Iraqi civilians can behave in situations of extreme danger — calmly continuing to shop in the middle of firefights or driving past roadblocks for no good reason.
3) It doesn’t include any idiot statements by soldiers about the politics of the war — the kind that some critics expect because everyone in their world “knows” that the Iraq War is about lies, oppression, rape, oil-stealing, etc.
4) It gives you some sense of the Iraqi entrepreneurial presence on US bases, though on the big FOBs the stores tended to be on a larger and more impressive scale — certainly more than mere stalls — and they sold everything from pirate DVDs to food and souvenirs.
4) Neither the writer nor the director was under the impression that Iraq is “another Vietnam,” nor did they feel the need to insert clichés from various Vietnam war movies (unlike Jarhead with its moronic “I love my rifle” rip-off from Full Metal Jacket).
5) Above all, the soldiers are neither depicted as psychotic murderous villains (Redaction, Battle of Haditha, etc.) nor patronized as pathetic victims of a war of oppression.
Kathryn Bigelow clearly respects the troops and the work they do. She’s also one of the great action directors of our time, and, as she first demonstrated in the surfing/crime movie Point Break, she is genuinely fascinated by the way men bond in dangerous and challenging situations. I would argue film deserves to be seen, and despite its (relatively inoffensive) inaccuracies, to win an Academy Award.
– Jonathan Foreman was embedded with US troops in Iraq in 2003 and 2005.