Monday, July 27, 2009

The Hurt Locker - a movie review

The Hurt Locker is a movie about a team of soldiers in Iraq who disarm Improvised Explosive Devices, or IEDs. The movie took a while to drift from Opening Day to Tallahassee, so I had a lot of time to read rave reviews of the movie in the NYT and Wall Street Journal. I was really looking forward to seeing this flick but left profoundly disappointed on a number of levels.

Mark Boal, the screenwriter, evidently spent a few weeks with a bomb squad in Iraq in 2004 as a journalist and decided to turn the experience into a movie. Neither he, nor Kathryn Bigelow, the Director, knew much about the Army nor what it was like to spend a long tour in Iraq, based on the scenes that were portrayed in the movie.

If you don't care about any of that, then the movie has a lot of tense action sequences and tremendous explosions. They didn't quite meet the action-adventure movie standard, being a little short in car chases and scantily clad females, but the bomb squad trio did engage in plenty of arguing and fighting (mostly with each other).

I understand how difficult it can be to properly depict a different culture like the Army, but Ridley Scott did a fabulous job of it in "Black Hawk Down." Yes, yes, Ridley probably had a lot more money the Kathryn, but it wouldn't have taken much more to address the major errors that I found in the movie. First, and most importantly, our terrible trio spend entirely too much time wandering through Iraqi cities and deserts all by themselves, either in a single Hummer working its way through Iraqi traffic, or driving in spectacular, solitary, splendor across the desert landscape.

At this time and place in the war, nobody loved unless they were in convoys of at least four vehicles. Moving in a single vehicle through urban Iraq was at least as dangerous, if not more so, than disarming bombs. Plus, think about it: what if your Hummer broke down? Believe it or not, this single aspect of the script, repeated in numerous scenes, ruined the movie for me. Other parts of the movie, including the way the Iraqis were depicted, also bothered me.

Jeremy Renner, the actor who played the wild man Sergeant James, who led the team, did a fabulous job. I also enjoyed the performance of Anthony Mackie, who played Sergeant Sanborn, James' assistant. Both men kept me interested in the movie.

"The Hurt Locker" reminded me of the old TV series from the sixties, "Combat." It was a one hour show about an infantry squad in WW II, staring Vic Morrow. It gave me one of my favorites lines in early television ("Checkmate King Two, this is White Rook, over." says Vic Morrow as he calls his platoon leader on the radio). This squad wanders around through Europe, mostly six or eight or ten guys, all by themselves except for the occasional civilian or German soldier who happens along to provide drama for the show.

Don't get me wrong - this kind of thing happened in WW II. But not all the time. Every day. For days and days. In my opinion, Combat was as much like WW II, and The Hurt Locker was as much like Iraq, as MASH was like the Korean War.

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