Veterans Say Exaggerations Abound In 'Hurt Locker'
by Tom Bowman
March 5, 2010
The Hurt Locker has been hailed by critics for its gritty portrayal of Army bomb disposal troops. But veterans say the film — nominated for nine Oscars, including Best Picture — is riddled with inaccuracies.
The scene: Baghdad, 2004. A soldier in a heavy protective suit slowly walks away from a pile of trash. He's just set an explosive charge to destroy it. Suddenly, his comrades spot a shopkeeper using a cell phone — a worrying sign, since phones are often used to detonate massive bombs.
With the soldiers unable to get a clean shot, the shopkeeper presses a button and, in an instant, the bomb detonates, killing the soldier sent to disarm it.
This is the opening scene of the movie The Hurt Locker, which is nominated for nine Oscars, including Best Picture. And it's a scene Paul Rieckhoff can't get out of his head.
"Very seldom is a guy going to put on a bomb suit and walk down there and try and dismantle something by hand," says Rieckhoff, who served as an Army officer in Iraq during the time period the movie depicts, and often worked with bomb disposal units, known as Explosive Ordnance Disposal, or simply EOD.
"It just doesn't make sense. For the most part, they're going to use robotics; they're going to use other types of explosives to set off a charge — a controlled charge — next to it. It's really a Hollywood sensationalized version of how EOD operate," says Rieckhoff, who runs the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America association and wrote a sharply critical article about the movie for Newsweek.
Rieckhoff says many of his fellow EOD members are criticizing the film for its inaccuracies. He worries that many Americans will come to understand Iraq through movies like The Hurt Locker and get a warped view of what soldiers face.
'It's A Movie, Not A Training Film'
Not everyone agrees with Rieckhoff, though. That opening scene is the one Jim O'Neil likes the best.
"It kind of captures the whole environment over there in that first nine minutes," says O'Neil, who served as a Navy bomb disposal expert during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. He now runs the EOD Memorial Foundation in Florida, which maintains a memorial wall and offers scholarships to the families of EOD service members.
He acknowledges that there is some fiction built into the movie.