August 20, 2009

The Hurt Locker

Kathryn Bigelow's film The Hurt Locker – about an Explosive Ordnance Disposal team in Iraq – has been in theaters for months, and it's a bit late for me to review it.

I'd still like to say a few things about it, however.

Finally – a movie that takes place in post-Saddam Iraq that is devoid of politics. I have no interest whatsoever is watching either a left-wing or a right-wing movie about the war in Iraq. When I'm in Iraq, American domestic politics, and all the baggage that comes with it, is the last thing I even think about let alone care about. The same seems to be true for most people over there. Hollywood's politics simply do not exist in Iraq, and it's about time the industry put out a movie by people who understand that.

If you haven't yet seen it – go see it. Some details are off, but for the most part they're the kinds of details only someone who has actually spent time over there or in the military will actually care about.

The crew made up for those flaws by doing a fantastic job transforming parts of Amman, Jordan, into places that, topography aside, look an awful lot like Iraq. That's a hell of feat all by itself. Last time I left Baghdad, I traveled to Lebanon through Jordan and was staggered by how much nicer Amman is than Baghdad. (Beirut, meanwhile, is vastly superior to Amman.)

The characters aren't stereotypes. They are well-rounded and interesting, and they talk like American soldiers in Iraq actually talk. (The accents of some of the Iraqi characters are off, but I can let that pass.)

What struck me most about this movie – and why I think you should see it – is that it perfectly captures the horrifying moral and ethical black hole of the Iraqi insurgency and the ruin it has wrought on that country. Words like "dark," "violent," and "dysfunctional" don't even begin to describe what an awful place Iraq recently was and, in some ways, still is.

The moment that resonates with me most comes near the end. After a particularly nasty scene, a sergeant riding back to the base in a Humvee breaks down in tears and says "I hate this place." After watching the wrenching two hours that precede it, you'll understand.

Watch the trailer:

Posted by Michael J. Totten at August 20, 2009 1:27 PM


Completely agree Michael. I saw this a few months ago right when it came out in limited release in D.C. Powerful is one of the only words to describe it and very true to life with the characters. Reminded me of my cousin who kept volunteering to go back to Iraq like one of the characters. That kind of thing is overlooked far too much. I won't watch any politically inspired movie on the war on terror in general like "Lions for Lambs" "Rendition" etc.

Posted by: majestic Author Profile Page at August 21, 2009 8:53 AM

I saw the main character in Hurt Locker as the kind of expert/artist who totally gets into the flow as he's working, which is why he enjoys such difficult work.

But my Dad, an engineer, thought the movie captured the long running battles between military types and tech types. In his opinion, the military men have more respect following the rules, and they don't understand the techs, who are willing to break the rules to find a solution. He used to be in the Army Corps of engineers, and he didn't think the tech vs. military battle could ever be resolved.

We both thought it was a great movie.

Posted by: maryatexitzero Author Profile Page at August 21, 2009 10:21 AM

I've actually have been waiting for you to review this movie before I shelled out some hard earned cash to see it. I'm pleased that this is an "A-political movie", in my opinion after horrible modern war genre films like lions for lambs and syriana I wrote off Hollywoods take on modern conflict all together. Thanks for the review I look forward to seeing this film.

Posted by: ramsis Author Profile Page at August 21, 2009 1:06 PM

Thanks for the review.

For the most part, we do not go to the movies anymore. We took the grand children to see the penguin movie "Happy Feet" (penguins starving to death because of us greedy people over fishing but they were saved by the UN) and Wall-e (the earth destroyed by us pigs to the point we had to abandon the Earth).

This one sounds like it might be worth the money.


Posted by: Steamboat Jack Author Profile Page at August 23, 2009 1:32 PM


I've reacted to recent movies, particularly my nieces' kid's films, the same way; I sit there annoyed, waiting for the spin to begin. More annoying even are the non-G, non-PG trailers. Just tell a good story by getting me involved with your characters' lives. And go easy on the gratuitous crash, boom; it's a lazy excuse for avoiding storytelling, and not what I want my nieces emulating.

Posted by: Paul S. Author Profile Page at August 23, 2009 2:38 PM

I thought this was an incredibly powerful movie, beautifully made. There were a couple spots where the writing fell out of synch with the feel, but 99% of it was top notch. However, not for the easily unnerved. I went with several friends who were (despite being warned otherwise) expecting the usual Hollywood-ized bombastics and sanitized explosions, and they were all quite shaken at the end.

One review I read said that in 20 years when we're trying to understand where all the residual PTSD came from, this movie will remind us. It also made me think of what a couple israeli psychologists told me several years ago, a couple years into Iraq -- that the PTSD soldiers get from prolonged urban Arab warfare is a whole different level than anything we Americans had dealt with before.

Posted by: AZZenny Author Profile Page at August 24, 2009 8:49 AM

they were all quite shaken at the end.

Yeah. I was, too. That movie is really sticking with me. I still haven't gotten it out of my head.

I saw Inglorious Basterds two nights ago, and it was awesome, but I'm still thinking about The Hurt Locker.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at August 24, 2009 10:33 AM
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Winner, The 2008 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

Winner, The 2007 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

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