A quarterly magazine of urban affairs, published by the Manhattan Institute, edited by Brian C. Anderson.
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The Hurt Locker Question
The first honest Iraq movie or just a slicker version of Hollywoods anti-Americanism?
15 January 2010
Radical Islams long war against the West has been an occasion for shame for the U.S. movie industry. Unable to shake its effete anti-American pose, trapped in the squirrelly maze of a pernicious multicultural creed, Hollywoods knee-jerk reaction to the conflict has been to make film after half-baked film depicting our warriors as fools or monsters who commit atrocities at the behest of a cynical or criminal leadership.
A principled opposition to war is no offense. But to manufacture, while your nations armies are in the field, what are essentially propaganda tools for the enemyand for an enemy as low and malevolent as the jihadis, at thatis simply a bad act, a base act. Audiences have stayed away in droves, appalled, I suspect, to find that the imaginations they turn to for their entertainment have become wholly untethered from moral reality.
When people do shameful things, they know it, somewhere, deep down, and it shows. They blither rationalizations. They become enraged at the merest suggestion that they might be in the wrong. And they overcompensate with hysterical, self-congratulatory celebrations of their less despicable deeds.
Which brings me to The Hurt Locker, out this week on DVD. Director Kathryn Bigelows movie about a U.S. Army bomb squad in the hellish Iraq of 2004 is clearly less odious than the tripe that preceded it, so when the film originally opened last summer, it was greeted with absurdly orgasmic reviews. It has gone on to score more than a dozen Best Picture awards and nominations and is being heavily pushed for the Oscar by just about everyone aboard that intellectual Titanic that is our mainstream cultural media.
Yet for all that, the biggest bomb in the picture was the picture: the audience once again said no. Why? Well, its not really that good, for one thing. Its a wonderful hour-and-a-half-long film but goes on for two hours and ten minutes. After a series of excellent action set-pieces building to a sniper sequence thats actually as terrific as the reviewers claim, it meanders into increasing implausibility and irrelevance.
But is The Hurt Locker yet another piece of idiot agit-prop that makes our soldiers jobs harder and our enemies lives easier? The filmmakers and the media are desperate to convince us otherwise. For weeks before Hurt Lockers release, they loudly reassured the public that the movie was, in the words of Roger Ebert, completely apolitical. It has no opinion on the war in Iraq, except that there is one. Some conservative reviewers agreed. Mark Hemingway at National Review wrote that the film is not a straight depiction of American heroism; but it is a revelatory examination of the experiences and motivations of U.S. soldiers.
But John Nolte, the voice of reason who runs Andrew Breitbarts indispensable Big Hollywood website, would have none of it. He condemned the film.
Nolte and I spent part of Christmas break in a friendly email argument over the matter. Nolte objected to the fact that the films protagonist, Staff Sergeant James, played by the excellent Jeremy Renner, is less a hero than an adrenaline junkie. He saw anti-military intent in the films two most ridiculous characters, a sadistic colonel played by David Morse and a ludicrous Army therapist who tells his patients that war could be fun! Hurt Locker, Nolte wrote to me, says there are no heroes, no good men in the Militaryonly PTSD cases, lunatic Colonels, and those poor saps dragged along for the ride. A terrible depiction of who these men are.
Nolte convinced me that theres truth to some of this, but I still dont think its the whole story. The Hurt Locker, unlike every other War on Terror film Ive seen, exists in a moral universe that a sane man might recognize as our own. Insurgents murder without restraint, even enticing children into the blast area to kill as many as possible. U.S. soldiers are largely humane, trying their best to avoid violence and show mercy. Thats no more than an observation of the simple truth. Our culture is better than theirs and so, by and large, our people behave better.
Having given us that much reality, it seems to me director Bigelow should be free to express whats at her creative core: her womanly fascination with high-testosterone men of action, their heroism and their flaws.
The hysterical praise for the film in the mainstream press is, I feel certain, Hollywood and the medias attempt to drown out the voice of conscience at their inexcusable behavior during the course of this terrible struggle. But if The Hurt Locker isnt as great as all that, it is, as Mark Hemingway wrote, the best Iraq War movie ever made, though God knows thats not saying much.
Andrew Klavan is a City Journal contributing editor and the author of such best-selling novels as Dont Say a Word and Empire of Lies. His new thriller for young adults, The Long Way Home, is out in February.