New Movie Breaks Hollywood Mold on Iraq


by Collen Raezler [media critic]

‘The Hurt Locker’ allows audiences to draw their own conclusion about Iraq while remaining pro-soldier.

Hollywood has done the unthinkable. It’s produced a movie set during the Iraq war that doesn’t preach liberal politics or portray American troops as deranged killers.

Instead, “The Hurt Locker” plainly tells the story of three soldiers charged with disarming IEDs (improvised explosive devices) in Iraq in 2004. Released in only four theaters last month, it opened on a wider scale last weekend. “Locker” offers audiences more of an insight into what occurred, and continues to occur in Iraq, than all the posturing in all the other films produced about this war.

“Locker” takes a completely different approach than the 2007 anti-war dramas “In the Valley of Elah,” “Lions for Lambs,” and “Redacted.” It certainly makes war look like hell, but it doesn’t depict U.S. soldiers as murderers and rapists like “Elah” and “Redacted” did. Nor does it imply that government will abandon troops like “Lions.”

The movie reflects screenwriter Mark Boal’s time spent as a journalist embedded with a U.S. Army bomb squad in 2004. “It made a deep impression on me,” he stated in the film’s production notes. “When I got home, I thought ‘people have no idea how these guys live and what they’re up against.’”

In “Locker,” audiences see that every decision, every move, is a matter of life or death for troops in Iraq. They see the discipline soldiers must have to perform their duties, even through seemingly tedious assignments. They see the personality conflicts soldiers must work through to carry out orders and the courage of a soldier who, while convinced that he will not survive his tour of duty, still executes his responsibilities. They see the emotional toll such work takes on the soldiers.

Boal and director Kathryn Bigelow did not create characters with perfect morality but they did not demonize those who willingly step into the most precarious of positions.


Early indications show that “Locker” has box office potential.

For starters, the film has enjoyed a wide range of support. Both the liberal Huffington Post and the conservative National Review agree that “Locker” is the best of the Iraq war movies.

“The film could also be classified as the best Iraq movie that’s been on the screen to date,” wrote Zorianna Kit on the Huffington Post site. Mark Hemingway at National Review Online noted, “‘The Hurt Locker’ remains, at this point, the best Iraq War movie ever made.”

On, an aggregate site for movie reviews, “Locker” has earned a 94 percent rating among the nation’s top movie critics. Most reviews include a line about “Locker” being the best movie about Iraq, indicating that even critics are tired of the typical Hollywood’s typical anti-American, anti-war fare.

“Locker” has yet to become a wide release. It opened in four theaters on June 26 and expanded to 60 theaters last weekend. However, it grossed over $36,000 per theater, more than the nearly $26,000 per theater “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” earned. So far, the film earned $1.2 million.

Has Hollywood Seen the Light?

Peter Travers, film critic for Rolling Stone, called “In the Valley of Elah,” a drama about a returning soldier from Iraq who was killed by fellow troops, “essential.” Yet overall, it earned a 72 percent rating by critics and failed to garner interest at the box office. “Elah” earned only $14,839 per theater during its opening weekend in a limited release. Opening nationwide, it fared worse, with a $1,984 per theater average. Final domestic ticket sales totaled only $6.8 million. Peter Suderman, now an associate editor of Reason magazine, tagged “Elah” as a “lame-brained slam against soldiers who’ve seen battle.”

Critics panned “Lions for Lambs,” directed by Robert Redford and starring Hollywood heavyweights Meryl Streep and Tom Cruise. Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday wrote, “the movie plays too often like a college colloquium.” Box office receipts of $15 million reflected the critics’ feelings, despite the big names attached to the project.

Michael Medved, talk show host, film critic and CMI Advisory Board member, called “Redacted,” “a loathsome, crude, amateurish and grotesque assault on our troops in Iraq” and “wretched, irresponsible film that richly deserves the public rejection it will, inevitably, receive.”

Medved was right. Brian de Palma’s “Redacted” explored a situation based on real events in which American soldiers raped an Iraqi girl and murdered her family. YouTube videos, as well as videos from sources like cameraphones and foreign news outlets interspersed throughout the movie gave it the feel of a documentary. Yet the gimmick wasn’t enough to win over the majority of critics. Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times labeled it “kind of a mess.” He further noted, “Even if you agree with its politics, you will probably weep at the ineptitude of it all.” Movie audiences stayed away. The film failed to top $100,000 domestically, earning only little more than $65,000.

In the two days after Christmas 2007, more people saw Vince Vaughn’s inane comedy “Fred Claus” than saw “Redacted” in its entire run. In fact, “Claus” nearly doubled “Redacted’s” receipts in the two days after Christmas in 2007, earning over $126,000 just those two days.

Honor, Not Revile

Brigadier General Anthony J. Tata implored Hollywood in a Big Hollywood column to “get to work. If you remove the political lens so that you can see the American heroes fighting the good fight, your only issue will be too many good screenplays and packed movie theaters.”

The response to “Locker” surely shows Americans want to see war movies in which troops are good people. Not perfect, but courageous, honorable men and women who overcome impossible odds to do their jobs. ExileStreet

copyright 2009 Culture and Media Institute

Collen Raezler is a staff writer at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.

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