Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Opening Up The Hurt Locker

If you're not a regular at the Holiday Inn or stopped reading so called news-papers, head on over to USA Today for a piece on veterans opining about The Hurt Locker (including Troy from Bouhammer and yours truly). The word polarizing does not begin to describe the effect the movie has on combat veterans, and I might be the sole dissenter among my former platoon-mates who have showered aspersions on the film via Facebook status updates. I have argued that anyone with combat experience has to sever their intimate knowledge of what it's 'really like' from their mind to have any chance of enjoying contemporary war films. Many cannot undo the inextricable link between their time overseas and what they see portrayed onscreen.

I hate to get zen on anyone, but in these times I turn to the words of Roger Ebert, who has been fond of saying, "A movie is not about what it is about. It is about how it is about it." In other words, the movie isn't just about a trio of EOD techs disarming bombs in Baghdad. It is about how the adrenaline rush of combat and all the danger that comes from the next fix. The most important scene in the movie doesn't come from a bomb defusal or a fiery explosion. It comes from James at home, baffled at life moving at an ordinary, pedestrian, boring pace. How it is about it is contrasting the feeling of home and all the inadequacies that come with it, with subtle yet powerful imagery and incredibly sparse dialogue. That is why the film succeeds where others before it have failed. It is by no means a perfect movie and sacrificed technical accuracy for few genuine and many artificial dramatic scenes, but how it is about its own thesis of war is a drug is why the movie is a landmark in the genre of contemporary war films. In the years to come, there will be many more films about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. There will be a handful that are the total package, technically accurate but legitimately and realistically dramatic. Those films will be better than The Hurt Locker, but only because it was there to set the bar far above what we have already seen.

My original review can be found here, and my critique of a review from Big Hollywood can be found here.


Joe G. said...

Good job, Dude. From the perspective of a civilian who's enjoyed watching war movies since he was a kid in the 1960s, I would only add that the problem is WE DON'T TRUST HOLLYWOOD, PERIOD. I clued in in the late '70s, when movies like "Coming Home" subtly (and powerfully) made anti-war statements, basically trashing Vietnam vets, making 'em look like idiots. I have no respect for them UNLESS they have some bona fides, like, for example, Mr. Oliver Stone has, because of his service. Still, I think Stone and the whole lot are blinded by the almighty, elitist AND EXTREMELY WEALTHY Hollywood culture. What does a good colonel make in a year, $40-50k? What an f-ing joke. For that, I hate 'em with a passion. IF they were to produce a movie like "The Hurt Locker" AND ALL -- or practically all -- of the EOD technicians said "Yeah, they got it right. SUPER JOB" -- sure, in that case, I'd go see it. WHY DOES THIS NEVER HAPPEN?

Why can't they make a version of "Lone Survivor" that Marcus Luttrell and the family of Michael Murphy agree on? You know why? IT'S NOT IN THEIR DNA.

As it stands, hell no I won't go see ANY movie about the current conflicts. The media in general and Hollywood specifically have been HURTING our cause since it started on 9/11. You think I'll ever forgive them? NO. Nor will most educated patriots over 40 (I'm 50).

Good luck and God bless you.

CI-Roller Dude said...

Wow, when I go watch a movie, I either like it or not...I usually don't spend more than 30 seconds analyzing it.
A war movie is either good or it's not good.
I guess I am too simple. I'll have to wait til' this movie is on DVD...

Alex Horton said...


We're in for more anti-military dreck I'm sure, but the Hurt Locker did a pretty good job keeping politics out. It crept in through dialogue a couple times, but I'll take those few times over the massive hammer Redacted hits you over the head with.


I'm what people call a movie buff when they don't want to say 'an asshole who spends too much time critiquing movies.' At least to me, movies are works of art on the level of literature and music. When a movie is great, there are layers to it, something new to discover every time. A talented director can say more with a single shot or a certain angle than he can with ten pages of dialogue. That is why I find film so compelling and am willing to look for what is beyond the surface.

heatheradair said...

hi man - found ya via USA Today's article actually - absolutely dig what you've got going on here...ditto your thoughts on movies as works of art with many layers. just watched "hurt locker" this weekend for the first time and was really curious to know how well it nailed what it was trying to nail from an "insider" perspective - after clicking through some of what you've posted: got my answer. thanks...

Joe said...

I watched this movie for the first time yesterday and found it mostly boring. About 20 minutes in I picked up my laptop and started doing some homework. I think the only scene that stood out is at the very end where the guy is in the grocery store, not sure on why his cereal choice. I thought, "Hey, that's how I think sometimes" and then the movie ended.

Jacob said...

I found your site and review via that USAToday article. Enjoyed reading your review of it. I quite enjoyed the movie and like you i appreciated the lack of politics being shoveled at the viewer the entire time, something all too common in war movies.

Red said...

Now I am intrigued ... I guess I'll have to go see this movie!

Alex Horton said...


I felt that way in some parts too, particularly during the lulls in the sniper scene. But in a way, even those moments had a realistic feel to them. Waiting for something to happen is horrifically boring, as you know.

Gene Ha said...

First, I'm not a vet. Like Joe, I don't trust Hollywood either. He reduces it to elitism: I lay it down to incompetence and limited resources, esp. time, and dramatic necessity. Even if you get the consultants in, it only reduces the mistakes.

Look at Audie Murphy's classic WWII memoir To Hell and Back. Then watch the movie, which he stars in. Completely botched. Patton is a great movie, but it's opera, not history.

Black Hawk Down the movie has all the soldiers trashing the mission, when in the book they mostly supported it. I've seen it trashed in vet blogs and reviews. The military consultant, Lee Van Arsdale, led the rescue mission portrayed in the movie.

Somehow, no one in comments has mentioned HBO's Generation Kill or Band of Brothers. HBO works harder than others on getting tone and detail right.

Sabra said...

Alex, I saw the movie in the theater (after reading your review) and liked it well enough to grab it on DVD when I saw it in Wal-Mart. Being the ex-spouse of a sailor I can't say a whole hell of a lot as to the technical accuracy of it (except that there were errors even I could see), but like you I found the emotional aspect to mostly ring true. There is one scene in the movie where James calls home on the satellite phone and his wife drops everything and runs for the phone--I've been there. I even understand a little bit the end of it, because it is hard to transition back to civilian life. It was hard for me as a wife to do, and harder still for my then-husband. The rest of it? I don't know, but it held my interest at least.

Mark said...

Thanks. I was feeling guilty for liking and owning the movie. The guilt is now fading. I am not a veteran so I wouldn't the inaccuracy if it bit me, but I did enjoy the movie.

PTSD, A Caregiver's Perspective said...

I watched this movie with my husband a disabled OIF veteran with severe combat PTSD and TBI. Although he flinched a great deal at the explosions and gun fire, he homed in on the subtle thread that wove it's way throughout the whole film. The survivors guilt, the interactions between officers and the men under their command, the avoidance of dealing with issues "numbing your mind" in order to cope, the problems dealing with civilian life after being in combat zone for a year.

I loved this movie and look forward to watching it again soon.

Robert Beames said...

I have to admit I thought the movie was really accurate when I saw it! I don't know anything about combat operations at all, and it convinced me. I'm glad I read your blog, because now I'll stop telling people how realistic the film is (apart from the bit where the guy runs off the base alone - which even I could tell was far fetched).
Does it bother you that people like me (with no knowledge of the real situation) will come away thinking this is exactly how it is?
I still love this film and hope it wins the Oscar, but your blog has put the film in perspective.

American Joe said...

Yeah, the movie sucked. I saw it when it first came out, I was blown away by the lapses in tactical proficiency. I would dare to sneak off base either, if haji did get me, my 1SG will.


DangerGirl said...

...." Horton believes director Kathryn Bigelow nails the addiction-to-combat element and the urge by some to keep returning to war. "That's why it's a watershed film of the contemporary war genre," he says."

KUDOS Alex...FINALLY someone who gets it.

I first saw Hurt Locker at the Toronto Film Festival where it premiered to an enthusiastic and sophisticated audience who were galvanized by the film - its in your face cinematography, it's exploration of bravery & peril and war as a drug.

Altho it seemed implausible at the time - everything about this powerful film said "Oscar"

And that made me sad because I feared it would get lost in the sea of horrible Iraq war films and be overlooked.

As someone who spent years working in Hollywood, and who unflinchingly supports our troops, the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, I despaired at the long string of horrible"Iraq war films" that failed miserably at the box office not just because of their obvious left wing political agenda, but also because these films depicted our brave warriors as evil, or victims, or rapists, or drunks, or pawns, or dripping with PTSD.

I longed for a watershed film -- a contemporary Bridge Over The River Kwai one of the greatest war films and an outstanding, psychologically complex adaption of the book.

And while it would be disingenuous if I said that in "The Hurt Locker" I finally found what I sought, I will say it came thisclose.

All war films take creative license including Bridge Over The River Kwai, and other classics like The Dirty Dozen, Battle of the Bulge, Halls of Montezuma, The Guns of Naverone, undoubtedly one of the great war films, and The Great Escape,based on a true story. These films were not realistic depictions of war in every aspect and detail as many of those who had combat experience will acknowledge.

But that's the nature of film.

And yet these films are classics --revered by those that have served and civilians alike.

Alex is right when he recognizes why "The Hurt Locker" succeeds where others have failed--- "HOW it is about its own thesis of "war is a drug" is WHY the movie is a landmark in the genre of contemporary war films."

I didn't attend the Oscars this year, I was in Toronto, where I now live, but I watched how a low budget movie directed by a kick ass female that I first saw in Toronto, overcame the odds, and just like our Military, surged to a great victory - BEST FEATURE FILM OSCAR.

What a great tribute to the men and women of the Military, who serve with dignity, honor and courage.