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'The Hurt Locker' debate: accuracy vs. entertainment

February 26, 2010 |  2:53 pm

The Hurt Locker Oscars Academy Awards Kathryn Bigelow Jeremy Renner As a trio of Los Angeles Times writers -- Julian E. Barnes, Ned Parker and John Horn -- reported Friday, "Although 'The Hurt Locker' has numerous supporters within the military -- including Purple Heart winner Drew Sloan, who participated in a 'Hurt Locker' panel discussion in Hollywood with other veterans and the film's makers Wednesday night -- the movie's detractors share a consistent complaint about its representation of the Army's Explosive Ordnance Disposal team as they attempt to disarm improvised explosive devices."

Indeed, "members of EOD teams in southern Iraq said in interviews arranged by the Army that 'The Hurt Locker' is a good action movie if you know nothing about defusing roadside bombs or the military. Sgt. Eric Gordon of San Pedro, an Air Force EOD technician on his second tour in Iraq, has watched the movie a few times with his friends. 'I would watch it with other EOD people, and we would laugh,' Gordon said." And they add, "an EOD team leader in Maysan province, Staff Sgt. Jeremy D. Phillips, said although he was glad the film highlighted their trade, he disliked the celluloid treatment of EOD units. 'There is too much John Wayne and cowboy stuff. It is very loosely based on actual events,' he said. 'I'm honestly glad they are trying to convey to the public what we've been doing, and I wish maybe they had just done it with a little bit of a different spin on it,' he said."

Among those also interviewed was the film's Oscar-nominated screenwriter and co-producer Mark Boal who said "the film was not intended to be a documentary or a training film. 'We certainly made creative choices for dramatic effect,' he said. 'But I hope the choices were made respectfully and conscientiously.'"

The above report is just the latest dispatch in an ongoing debate about the Oscar contender. On Feb. 4, Iraq war veteran Kate Hoit detailed her concerns with the film in a column that appeared on the Huffington Post. As she wrote, "'The Hurt Locker' made it seem like the EOD team were taking on the streets of Baghdad; just them against a world of improvised explosive devices. However, this is when I realized the scriptwriters were lazy. This movie is a full-throttle adrenaline rush that is comprised of ditching common sense and the realities of war. The writers did not attempt to formulate a story based on the actual job of an EOD soldier. Instead, they created a war junky, sniper, commando guy who relied on no one (and no radios?) and stressed-out everyone around him, including those watching the movie."

In rebuttal, retired EOD officer and executive director of the EOD Memorial James P. O'Neil explained, "'The Hurt Locker' takes place over a year, compressed to two hours. Every moment of it is intense. Jeremy Renner's character and personality is a composite of a dozen or so EOD techs that I know. Were we as reckless as James? Hell no. I probably would have punched him out as well. The 'beyond the wire' insurgent hunt and hoodie run may not be entirely realistic, but no one can honestly say they weren't entertained and glued to their seats during these sequences."

And the film's technical adviser, James Clifford, addressed Hoit's criticism of the film as follows: "I will stipulate that Ms. Hoit's points are accurate, but they amount to differences without distinctions. Her commentary demonstrates that she has the vision to see the trees but appears to lack the judgment to see the forest. She is apparently unable to tell the difference between entertainment and education. 'The Hurt Locker' is entertainment based on real situations."

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Photo: "The Hurt Locker" still. Credit: Summit.

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