I never thought that blowing up bombs in Iraq could be boring. The Hurt Locker managed to make it so. I went into this movie with high hopes. I love war movies and war history. I’m currently reading through Max Hastings’ histories of WWII (first “Overlord” and now “Armageddon”), and “Band of Brothers” is one of my favourite TV shows of all time. So how can something as potentially fascinating as bomb disposal be made boring?
The first problem with the movie is that there is no perceivable story arc. The three main characters go out on a series of missions, defuse some bombs and make a series of ridiculous decisions. The end. There is no development that I really care about as an audience member. This in itself could kill the movie.
A larger fault with the movie is that the protagonist is extremely unlikeable. He is totally out of control in a situation where control over oneself is absolutely critical. Not only does this make an emotional connection difficult, it is also impossible to believe that he would be allowed to operate the way he does for more than a day without being busted to private and sent off to peel potatoes. I’ve met members of Canada’s 1st combat engineers who deal with bombs in Afghanistan. I was extremely impressed with their dedication, and the level of seriousness they treated the problem of IEDs. I have a feeling they would be insulted to be associated with the behaviour demonstrated in this movie.
The fact is, even with my limited knowledge of real military life, this movie is totally unbelievable. There is a long list of obvious errors. Why is a bomb disposal tech allowed to act with total disregard for himself and his fellow team members? Where is the oversight? Are there no officers calling the shots here? Why are three bomb disposal techs driving around by themselves in the desert looking for trouble? Since when are bomb disposal techs trained to operate .50 cal sniper rifles to a level of expertise where they can headshot a running target at 800 meters? Assuming a bomb disposal tech is trained in sniping, why does he set up his rifle in the exact same spot where his buddy just got wasted 10 seconds before? Why do we never see the bomb techs communicating with anybody else? They never call for help! Why are three bomb disposal techs running around alleys at night, ultimately splitting up to search more effectively? Why did they leave their humvee, mounted with a .50 cal machine gun, parked unattended in a Baghdad street? How exactly did the protagonist manage to leave the compound searching for the kid’s family? Did he tell the guys at the gate that he was going out for milk? Why was the protagonist referred to as “sir” at least twice in the movie, when he is a sergeant?
When you make a movie about a real conflict, one that is still going on, you are constrained to tell your story within the boundaries of what is actually happening in that conflict. You can stretch the truth, but if you go too far then the movies looks more like a farce then a serious work. Doing this properly is not easy to accomplish, but it can be done, and has been done in the past. This is not something that has to be dealt with by story tellers who are telling fictional stories (e.g. Avatar). They can invent their own context. The makers of The Hurt Locker did not have this luxury, but apparently thought they did. And because of this they failed.