Iraq Movie, 'The Hurt Locker' Is Generating Oscar Buzz: But Does It Deserve It?
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As the year winds down and Hollywood gets busy creating Oscar buzz, one unlikely contender is The Hurt Locker, the widely praised Iraq movie that premiered at the Venice Film Festival last year and was released in the U.S. in June 2009.
"Just when I thought I'd seen enough of Iraq war movies, along comes ( Hurt Locker)," an Access Hollywood film critic told USA Today in September. "If any movie about Iraq is going to break through to the academy, this is it."
Indeed, the "megabuzz-spawning film" (to quote the Modesto Bee) was nominated for its first official honor last month, by the prestigious (if relatively obscure) New York-based Independent Filmmaker Project, which tapped it for Best Feature. According to the Los Angeles Times, which has started tracking Oscar favorites, The Hurt Locker has been tapped by no fewer than 16 leading film pundits as a serious Academy Award contender.
Even if it skipped your radar, you've probably heard some beaming reviews about The Hurt Locker by now.
The almost unanimous acclaim it attracted from mainstream reviewers focused mainly on director Kathryn Bigelow's suspenseful action scenes, which make up the majority of the film's run time, and prominent reviewers agree that it's a masterfully crafted American combat epic about three deceptively simple-looking and courageous American men making sacrifices for their country while in unfamiliar, hostile territory.
At least partially thanks to clever marketing, the film produced over $12 million in box office revenue, making it the most successful movie made about the U.S. war on Iraq and its so-called war on terror to date. (Compare to films like Redacted, which earned $25,628, or Rendition's $9.6 million.)
But there are some curious contradictions in the praise Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal have received for their work.
Reviewers cite Boal's brief stint as an embedded journalist following a bomb-disposal unit in Iraq as supporting evidence for the film's alleged accuracy. But they fail to consider the inevitable bias of such a narrow perspective.
Would reviewers have lauded the accuracy of a story based on the experiences of a journalist who had been embedded with the "other" side -- particularly if the portrayal of American soldiers had not been positive?
Some reviewers have praised Bigelow for allegedly not incorporating a political stance into the film. This is simply ridiculous: It's being endorsed by military-recruitment sites as we speak. A link to military.com, the largest military organization in the United States, appears on the front page of the film's official Web site.
A Realistic Portrayal of Iraq?
Filmed in Jordan, The Hurt Locker is supposed to have taken place in Iraq in 2004, where an American bomb-dismantling team visits various danger spots in unfriendly neighborhoods.
The first scene, ironically, opens with a quote from award-winning anti-war journalist and author Chris Hedges: "The rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction for war is a drug." Cue screen fade.
The display re-emerges from within the lens of a remote-controlled robot making its way across a rocky road toward a suspicious-looking pile of sacks laid out on the ground near an old railway track. The audience catches brief glimpses of destruction from this unsteady viewpoint, as well as a shaky camera (through which most of the film is viewed) that narrows in and out on people and objects, as though they are all targets.
From these two perspectives, we see old blown-up cars and destroyed buildings juxtaposed beside the U.S. presence, shown here through the existence of a crushed Pepsi can and U.S. military men. A man's voice sounds in the background while Iraqi civilians are told to evacuate. Cars continue to drive down a road very nearby. The civilians are either frantic or annoyed that they are being asked to exit the area.