So, let me be clear. Harvey Weinstein did not hire me to write this piece. He's never hired me for anything, nor have I have ever met the man. But that doesn't change the fact that "The Hurt Locker" is a sham, and there's a litany of reasons Iraq war veterans are distancing themselves so passionately from it.
The "stinkeye" look, for example, levied at American soldiers by local civilians is as constant and consistent in Iraq as it is in this movie. And Jeremy Renner absolutely nails his character; a man addicted to war's recurring adrenaline rushes and bored with the banality of civilian life. I've seen this in many of my own soldiers and non-commissioned officers, and it's just as tragically courageous as depicted. Director Kathryn Bigelow also effectively details the ultra-macho soul of this world without the standard Hollywood commentary on homophobia and repressed sexual desires. And she thankfully keeps the film free of political commentary, which stays true to most soldiers' mentalities while deployed.
But the few things the movie gets right just makes the entire picture all the more frustrating and disappointing. Though earnest and well-dressed, it fails in its ambition to serve as a medium to the realities of war, because it simply isn't realistic, and only the people who have actually been there would recognize what a fraud it is.
The first mental alarm for me went off 15 minutes into the movie, when the three-man ordnance team is shown driving through Baghdad traffic in a lone Humvee, with nary another American armored vehicle in sight. But what Bigelow portrays as commonplace just never occurs. At the bare minimum, an American mounted patrol operating in Iraq must roll with three armored vehicles. It's the same reason mall cops operate in pairs: the principle of backup.
Other problems piled up. Infantry platoons don't abandon their Humvees. Psychologists, especially those with the rank of lieutenant colonel, aren't left to their own devices outside the wire. And explosive ordnance teams, no matter how well trained and motivated, don't rescue British security contractors by engaging in hourslong sniper battles with insurgents.
But the moment when "The Hurt Locker" officially jumps the shark is when Renner's character sneaks off the forward operating base (FOB) by himself. Impossible does not even begin to capture this moment, even if Renner does so by hijacking an Iraqi merchant's truck for the ride out.
Admittedly, I was in Iraq during the surge. But as Sgt. Aaron Cabrera -- a former soldier in my scout platoon who previously served with the 1st Cavalry Division as a Humvee machine gunner in Baghdad in 2004, around the time the movie takes place -- put it in an e-mail: "I think if Hollywood is going to try to glamorize Hell, they should at least get it accurate. If anyone back in 2004 tried any of that cowboy stuff shown in 'The Hurt Locker,' they'd either be dead or spending the rest of the deployment behind a desk on the FOB."
Of course, Hollywood has a long history of embellishing stories and playing fast and loose with the facts, including in some of my favorite war movies, such as "Kelly's Heroes" and "Three Kings." But those films earn a pass because they are open and honest about the fictional nature of their stories.
War movies don't have to be realistic unless they are portraying and marketing themselves that way. But when a film does this, the filmmakers need to anticipate that the veterans of that conflict are going to critique it meticulously. This isn't just a two-hour movie escape for us. It's rehashing the pre-eminent experience of our lives, and attempting to explain the unexplainable to our family, friends and society. If it doesn't get it right, but makes others think it did ... well, we have an obligation to say so.
Many Vietnam veterans weren't happy with war films of their era until one of their own, Oliver Stone, wrote and directed "Platoon." Such may prove to be the case for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, as we await a film about us that is also for us. Though well intentioned, and as close to the true experience that Hollywood has attempted yet, "The Hurt Locker" is not and will never be that film.
Matt Gallagher is a former U.S. Army cavalry officer who served in Iraq from 2007 to 2009. He is also the author of the war memoir, "Kaboom: Embracing the Suck in a Savage Little War," set to be published April 1.
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