USA Today talked to numerous vets, many of whom said the movie gets a lot of the big and little things right while acknowledging that some details aren't true to life. The vets fall into two camps: those who find the inaccuracies too distracting to enjoy the movie, and those who are willing to overlook them because it gets major elements right: the camaraderie; the paranoia of U.S. soldiers among Iraqi civilians who may be friend or foe; the adrenaline rush of bomb squad work; and the dizzying alienation of returning home. Much of the surge of interest in 'The Hurt Locker,' including its nine Oscar nominations, has to do with the movie's vaunted verisimilitude, the supposed accuracy of its grunt's-eye view of the Iraq War. But how accurate is it? Depends on which veterans you ask.
USA Today talked to numerous vets, many of whom said the movie gets a lot of the big and little things right while acknowledging that some details aren't true to life. The vets fall into two camps: those who find the inaccuracies too distracting to enjoy the movie, and those who are willing to overlook them because it gets major elements right: the camaraderie, the paranoia of U.S. soldiers among Iraqi civilians who may be friend or foe, the adrenaline rush of bomb squad work and the dizzying alienation of returning home.
'Hurt Locker' is based on the experiences of its Oscar-nominated screenwriter, journalist Mark Boal, during the time he spent in Iraq embedded with a bomb disposal unit like the one in the movie. But Boal acknowledges to USA Today that the film takes some license, partly for dramatic reasons, partly because the movie's modest $11 million budget didn't allow for extravagant battlefield reenactments. "Yes, we did do things for dramatic effect to tell the story, and hopefully we made those decisions respectfully and carefully," Boal says, "It's not a documentary."
Often, a war movie will offset production costs and get the use of realistic equipment and uniforms by enlisting the aid of the U.S. military, but the service branches declined to help the filmmakers in this case. Usually, that means the military finds the script inaccurate, unflattering or depicting behavior by servicemembers that sets a bad example. The Army declined to help 'Hurt Locker,' Army spokesman Lt. Col. Gregory Bishop tells USA Today, because Boal's screenplay contained "elements that were not in line with Army values."
Lt. Col. Bishop doesn't specify what those elements were. They could have been the inaccuracies in protocol or uniform design cited by some critics in the USA Today article, or they could have been the often reckless behavior on display in incidents where the bomb squad members travel unescorted or chase suspected insurgents down alleys alone or allow an Iraqi cab driver to penetrate a security perimeter. Depiction of such behavior besmirches the reputations of Iraq War vets and indelibly mars the movie, wrote veteran Troy Steward, 40, in his review on his blog, bouhammer.com. "I was amazed that a movie so bad could get any kind of accolades," he wrote.
Other vets USA Today spoke to say they find 'Hurt Locker' true to life. "I think everybody should watch it and see how things really are," says Marine Lance Cpl. Nate Knowles, 23, who lost a leg in Afghanistan when an IED (improvised explosive device) blew up in June.
"It was a therapeutic journey for me," says Army Capt. Steve Scuba, 34, an Iraq vet who was wounded by a car bomb. "It allowed my mind to process experiences that occurred over there."
Whether or not they find it realistic, 'The Hurt Locker' is a popular DVD among soldiers and veterans. Robert Lopez, who stocks PXs throughout the world, says he sold out nearly his entire stock of the movie, some 4,800 copies, in two weeks. "This title just took off. It did far better than we expected," Lopez tells USA Today. "It always surprises me that these war movies do as well as they do over there because they're literally living it day in and day out."