Thursday, March 11, 2010

Sadly, the Hurt Locker Is What Passes For A Great War Film

I finally watched "The Hurt Locker" the other night, and I was, to put it mildly, underwhelmed. As an action/suspense movie, it was ok. But the fact that it was an action/suspense movie is what really bothered me.

It's been seven years since our government lied to us, and then launched a war against a small, helpless foreign country which had done nothing to us. This war resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians and thousands of American troops. It has cost nearly $1 trillion dollars. It has destroyed what little moral standing America had left in the world.

These facts are not in dispute. It is, quite frankly, one of the biggest foreign policy fuck-ups of all time. And Hollywood can't even bring itself to make a mainstream movie that so much as alludes to these facts.

Critics are falling all over each other trying to congratulate this film for being apolitical. But they ignore the fact that it is simply impossible to make an apolitical film about a subject as political as Iraq. By refusing to address the illegitimacy of war, or the impact on the Iraqi people, they are making a political statement-namely, that these issues are not important. And they are very important. 

Robert Scheer makes another point:
What a shame that the one movie about the Iraq war that has a chance of being viewed by a large worldwide audience should be so disappointing. According to press reports, members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences finally found a movie about the Iraq war they liked because it is “apolitical.” Actually, “The Hurt Locker” is just the opposite; it’s an endorsement of the politically chauvinistic view that the world is a stage upon which Americans get to deal with their demons no matter the consequence for others. 
It is imperial hubris turned into an art form in which the Iraqi people appear as numbed bystanders when they are not deranged extras. It is a perverse tribute to the film’s accuracy in portraying the insanity of the U.S. invasion—while ignoring its root causes—that the Iraqis are at no point treated as though they are important.
And that's just it. Iraqi's, to many Americans, are not really even humans. We obsess over American casualty counts, but could give a rat's ass about how many Iraqi's have died as a result of our invasion. And the "Hurt Locker" is a perfect example of this. Towards the end of the movie, an innocent Iraqi, who has been booby trapped, pleads for the hero to save him. He is a good man, a family man. Everyone is in agreement on this point. But when he is blown up anyway, all of our concern is directed towards the hero, and how his failure will negatively affect him. The film can't even spare a few seconds of footage for the Iraqi man's family, because in our world, having your Iraqi father blown into little pieces just isn't as important as the the ego of an American soldier.

But this dehumanization is necessary if we are to continue to bomb, murder and torture people who get in the way of our dreams of global domination. It was the same with Hitler and the Jews.  Dehumanization is something that "civilized" people must do before they murder other people. Because "civilized" people would never do what we did to the Iraqi's if the Iraqi's were human beings.

I hope that a truly great film will be made about Iraq one day. I hope that it has no speaking parts for any American soldiers. I that hope it centers on what it would be like to live through through the nightmare of the last seven years. A film like that could transform hearts and minds. 

But this is not that film.


  1. “Hurt Locker” No Shill for War, Hubris, or Empire –
    Forever Questioning Characters and Context

    By Robert S. Becker Mar. 16, ‘10

    Too bad neither art, nor life answers to ideological pigeonholing, right or left. Along with anti-war voices, the estimable Robert Scheer errs by leaving politics he knows for film criticism he doesn’t. “Disappointed” with "The Hurt Locker’s” failure to explicitly reject everything about the Iraq War, Scheer wrongly depicts the movie as an “Oscar for America’s Hubris,” Hollywood's manifest “endorsement of the politically chauvinistic view that the world is a stage upon which Americans get to deal with their demons no matter the consequence for others.”

    This is aesthetic philistinism, disregarding who makes films, how they’re made and why (at least recoup costs, if not make money), or how they function as emotional transactions in an uncensored, secular state. If “Hurt Locker” promotes this war or the hubris of imperial Yankee occupation, then why isn't there one scene, storyline, or character that establishes this theme, let alone presents this as the movie’s take?

    Director Bigelow fashions a story, not a sermon, knowing that entrenched positions, either way, impede her mission: to cut through defenses and create significant emotional experiences about a difficult subject. If good art were propaganda, reducible to pre-digested “stands,” then we’d barely need movie critics or interpretation. Anti-war movies would broadcast, “disregard storytelling, context or character; this is about indicting war and Bush imperialism.”

    What is gained when outstanding movies get reduced to partisan “messages” or platforms that reinforce our prejudices, whether about politics or art? If Scheer thinks polemical art will fly, let him fund it, approve the script, and produce-direct. But beware fine actors with opinions or topflight film editors, composers or cinematographers, whose finely-tuned sensitivities resist dogma that jeopardizes story, tension, and continuity.

    see the rest of the comment at

  2. As far as entertainment value goes, I found the film to be better than Cop Out and nowhere near Shutter Island. I understand that films need to make money, but explaining why a film is not great is not much of a defense.

    Great art challenges our unexamined beliefs, and that is often not a lucrative enterprise. It's no secret that artists often have to choose between commercial success and great art. This film aims for commercial success; it simply tells an interesting story and goes out of its way to avoid challenging anyone. Does that make it a bad film?

    No, but it doesn't make it a great one either, and what is truly disappointing is that critics hail its unwillingness to challenge us as an Oscar qualification.

    And yet is is impossible to make a film about Iraq without making a political statement, and "The Hurt Locker" is no exception. Unfortunately, that statement is that Iraqi's should be viewed as little more than stage props in the great American drama.