The Hurt Locker looked poised to win big at the Oscars this weekend until getting embroiled in a controversy about whether or not it’s realistic. Iraq and Afghanistan veteran advocate Paul Rieckhoff pointed out a couple of significant inaccuracies (bomb squad techs acting like infantrymen, bad tactics, wrong uniforms, etc.), a bunch of bomb techs have complained it’s way too Hollywood, and a soldier who claims the story was based on him now plans to sue the filmmakers. But the pre-Oscar kneecapping misses the point: despite being set in Baghdad, Kathyrn Bigelow’s film was never really about Iraq.
First off, the film doesn’t engage the American experience in Iraq in a real political or intellectual way — certainly, not in the way films like Platoon or Apocalypse Now or Deer Hunter raised questions about Vietnam, or even how Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers explored the U.S. role in World War II. Iraq is merely the backdrop for an action movie — a remake of Bigelow’s Point Break set in Mesopotamia — that screenwriter Mark Boal uses to examine another theme entirely: the war junkie, embodied in Jeremy Renner’s character, Staff Sergeant William James.
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