There's nothing like being a sudden frontrunner to bring on the counterattacks. As The Hurt Locker has gone from underdog to juggernaut in the Oscar race, its creators are battling claims that the movie was inaccurate or disrespectful to troops.
The controversy was first set off by one of The Hurt Locker's own producers, Nicolas Chartier, who sent out an email that took a shot at Avatar, a violation of Academy rules. He quickly apologized and will be disciplined by the Academy, but the incident has been jumped on by The Hurt Locker's rivals.
More worrying to the film's chances are a rash of stories featuring the critical views of retired and current military personnel. The objections range from technical (soldiers in the wrong uniforms, equipment that wouldn't have been used), to historical (the conditions of the insurgency and the U.S. presence in Iraq at the time of the film's setting) to something more fundamental to the film's dramatic pitch: the lone cowboy protagonist. War photographer Michael Kamber wrote on The New York Times's Lens blog:
More disturbing and implausible yet is the way the protagonist repeatedly endangers the lives of his team members. The soldiers I have worked with over the years are like brothers to one another. Never have I seen stronger bonds between men. Any soldier who routinely endangers his own life or those of his squad members would not be punched, as the movie's star is in one scene. He would be demoted and kicked out of his unit.
Also leading the charge: an opinion piece in Newsweek by the head of a veterans' organization (whom, The Daily Beast points out, has his own war films to promote) making a similar claim, and a reported story in The Los Angeles Times outlining U.S. government objections to the film.
The government says it pulled its "Hurt Locker" production assistance at the last minute in 2007, saying that the film's makers were shooting scenes that weren't in the screenplay submitted to the Defense Department, including a sequence that the government believed portrayed troops unflatteringly. The film's producers dispute elements of the account.
Inaccuracy seems like a rather weak cudgel to wield against Hollywood — since when does anyone really give a shit, as long as it feels real enough? Arguing that the film is disrespectful to the troops is far more tarnishing. But the handful of servicemen who have come out against the movie and the U.S. government are hardly disinterested parties — their first-hand experiences matter, but they also have vested interests in how the Iraq war is represented. In any case, as much as the narrative matters, these awards are at least nominally about filmmaking, and so far no one has seriously questioned Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal's mettle in that respect.
The substance of the accusations aside, there is reason to be skeptical of the timing and the coverage on this front, as S. T. VanAirsdale pointed out over at Movieline:
I'm not about to second-guess anyone in Iraq. But I'll totally second-guess the editors who seem to have left the "Additional reporting by Harvey Weinstein in Baghdad" credit off [the LA Times story. Seriously: Why is this just coming out now? Moreover, look at the intensity of the LAT's coverage of Inglourious Basterds in recent weeks, then dig through the stack of not one, not two, not three, not four, but now five Hurt Locker takedowns at the same paper
And The Daily Beast's Nicole LaPorte adds,
Given that The Hurt Locker was released in theaters last summer (a more likely time for critics to come out of the woodwork) and that the due date for Oscar ballots was four days after the story ran, one Oscar consultant-who has nothing to do with Hurt Locker- called the article "Smear 101." (As TheWrap.com's Steve Pond has pointed out, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and the Associated Press have all run stories about soldiers' and veterans' reactions, concluding that the majority of them approved of the film. The Daily Beast also featured a story about a real-life Marine EOD soldier who thought the movie captured his experience.)
Today is the last day to submit Oscar ballots, but plenty of them are already in, and you're not allowed to change votes. So we'll see how much this will actually end up hurting the film's chances. In the meantime, for some real wartime verisimilitude, check out the full Jersey Shore clip from Lopez Tonight above.
How Not To Depict A War [NYT]
The Curious Case Of The Hurt Locker Attacks [NYT]
The Oscars Get Ugly [Daily Beast]
Are Hurt Locker Foes Using Troops To Take Down The Oscar Front-Runner?
'The Hurt Locker' Sets Off Conflict [LAT]
Veterans: Why The Hurt Locker Isn't Reality [Newsweek]