GOLDEN HALF TRUTHS
The Hurt Locker has been praised by film critics for its searing and accurate portrayal of modern warfare and Iraq. But now one soldier says there's a little too much reality on the screen, and is suing the makers of the Oscar-nominated film.
Master Sgt. Jeffrey S. Sarver was in the bomb disposal unit that screenwriter Mark Boal was embedded with in Iraq, and appeared in the original nonfiction article written by Boal that was published by Playboy magazine in 2005. That article was the jumping off point for Boal's Hurt Locker screenplay.
But Sarver's attorney alleges that "virtually all of the situations portrayed in the film, were, in fact, occurrences involving Master Sgt. Sarver that were observed and documented," according to a statement on his Web site. Sarver also says that Blaster One, the nickname of the main character in the movie, was his call name in Iraq, and that he coined the phrase 'the hurt locker' for Boal.
Boal told the Los Angeles Times's Patrick Goldstein "I think Sarver is a brave soldier and a good guy. Like a lot of soldiers, he identifies with the film, but the character I wrote is fictional. The film is a work of fiction inspired by many people's stories. There are similarities, because you'd find similarities to events that happened to lots of these guys. But the screenplay is not about him. I talked to easily over 100 soldiers during my research and reshuffled everything I learned in a way that would be authentic, but would also make for a dramatic story."
But also making Boal's point for him (though perhaps not in a way he would appreciate) is former infantryman Brian Mockenhaupt, writing in The Atlantic on what he sees as gross lapses in reality in the film:
"It's the huge stumbles, many of them a by-product of the need for narrative momentum and dramatic tension, that pollute the finer parts of The Hurt Locker. Consider the sniper scene: Driving alone through the desert - and no one drives alone in Iraq — the team comes upon several Blackwater-type contractors who have captured two high-value targets from the "deck of cards" — those Saddam Hussein cronies hunted in the early months of the war. An Iraqi sniper quickly kills three of the contractors with stunning long-range shots. With no reinforcements or air support available, James and his men must save the day. J.T. Sanborn, the team's level-headed sergeant, settles in behind a .50-caliber rifle and kills three insurgents, including one dropped at a dead run, nine football fields away. A trained sniper would be proud of that shot, so it's mighty impressive from a bomb disposal technician."
"The problem comes in knitting together these experiences, real or fancied, into a single narrative. Ask a dozen soldiers to tell you a story about the war and you'll hear a dozen harrowing or poignant or side-splitting tales. Many of them might be true. But smash them into a composite and the truth flees. While it makes for a convenient story vehicle and a steady point of focus for the viewer, packing everything into one man's or a small group's experience rises to the ridiculous."
When it comes to a subject as serious and subjective as the Iraq war, maybe blurring the boundaries between truth and fiction is the best any film can do.