Some Iraq, Afghanistan war veterans criticize movie 'Hurt Locker' as inaccurate

By Christian Davenport
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 28, 2010

Time magazine called "The Hurt Locker" "a near-perfect war film," but Ryan Gallucci, an Iraq war veteran, had to turn the movie off three times, he says, "or else I would have thrown my remote through the television."

Critics adore the film and it has been nominated for nine Oscars -- a feat matched only by "Avatar," the top-grossing movie of all time -- but Paul Rieckhoff, founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, says that's "nine more Oscar nominations than it deserves. I don't know why critics love this silly, inaccurate film so much," he wrote on his Facebook page.

Many in the military say "Hurt Locker" is plagued by unforgivable inaccuracies that make the most critically acclaimed Iraq war film to date more a Hollywood fantasy than the searingly realistic rendition that civilians take it for.

To which you might say: It's just a movie and an action flick at that. It's Tinseltown fiction -- an interpretation of war such as "Full Metal Jacket" or "Apocalypse Now." It's supposed to entertain. It's not a documentary, not real life.

But to those who were there, Iraq is real life. And they're very sensitive -- some would say overly so -- when their war is portrayed via a central character who is a reckless rogue.

Hence a rising backlash from people in uniform, such as this response on Rieckhoff's Facebook page from a self-identified Army Airborne Ranger:

"[I]f this movie was based on a war that never existed, I would have nothing to comment about. This movie is not based on a true story, but on a true war, a war in which I have seen my friends killed, a war in which I witnessed my ranger buddy get both his legs blown off. So for Hollywood to glorify this crap is a huge slap in the face to every soldier who's been on the front line."

Even Brian Williams, the NBC News anchor, took a shot on his blog, writing a post titled, "The Hurt Locker: Hurting for a fact-checker." The movie's positive reviews could not have been "written by anyone who had spent any time with U.S. armed forces in Iraq," he wrote, wondering why none of the soldiers in the movie dipped smokeless tobacco or said "hoo-ah" -- "the universal term for hello, goodbye, understood, etc."

'Reckless' character

In an interview, Rieckhoff said the anger about "Hurt Locker" stems not so much from such small inaccuracies -- for example, the uniforms the soldiers wear in the film weren't available until well after the time the story took place -- but rather from the depiction of the main character, Sgt. 1st Class William James.

Portrayed by Jeremy Renner, who's nominated for Best Actor, James is a daredevil who in one scene takes off his protective armor while disarming a bomb because, as he says, "If I'm going to die, I'm going to be comfortable." He runs alone through the streets of Baghdad with his sweat shirt hood up like a gangster. Later, he takes two soldiers hunting for insurgents in Baghdad's back alleys without any backup.

James's fellow soldiers are, or try to be, by-the-book professionals. They call James "rowdy" and "reckless," and one worries out loud that his leader's crazy antics are "going to get me killed." James is as much cowboy as soldier, and vets fear he could become an iconic figure in the American imagination should the movie win a bunch of statues.

"Films, almost more than anything, will be the way Americans understand our war," Rieckhoff said. "So we feel that there is a responsibility for filmmakers to portray our war accurately. We see ourselves as watchdogs. . . . When he puts a hood on like Eminem and starts roving outside the wire, it's ridiculous."

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