Sunday, April 3, 2011

MARCH MADNESS: The Hurt Locker (1) vs. Pearl Harbor (16)

ACTING: I do not think Pearl Harbor was cast with acting in mind. The leads were obviously chosen for their attractiveness to a young audience. Ben Affleck as Rafe McCawley (just the name gives you an inkling of what you are in store for) and Josh Hartnett as Danny Walker have had inconsistent acting careers. This movie is not one of their better performances. But this is a CG-reliant, adrenaline-fueled excuse for multi-blasts by one of the kings of that genre – Michael Bay. You get what you paid for. “The Hurt Locker” is much better acted. Jeremy Renner as the mentally unstable bomb tech Will James is spectacular and deserved the Best Actor nomination. He makes the character fascinating and unlikeable at the same time. He is very ably matched by his team consisting of Anthony Mackie as “by the book” Sgt. J.T. Sanborn and Brian Geraghty as “stuck in the middle” Specialist Owen Eldridge.

Score at the end of first period: Hurt – 10 Pearl - 6

REALISM: Cliches are based on actual possibilities in real life, but when you cram a bunch into a movie you exit real life and enter the realm of ridiculous. Any one of the clichés that happened in Pearl Harbor might have happened to someone, but not all of them and not to a small group of airmen. The idea that Rafe would be presumed dead while flying for the Eagle Squadron in England long enough for his best friend to fall in love with his fiancé is a fantasy aimed at forcing a romantic dilemma into the picture. This is just one example. Even the heralded Japanese attack features numerous shots of Japanese Zeros flying between the battleships for no logical reason. Rafe and Danny play chicken to get two sets of Zeros to crash into each other – ‘nuff said. The Hurt Locker tries to give a realistic portrayal of the Iraqi War, but it has problems as well. We must totally buy into the Army having an unstable individual in charge of a bomb disposal unit. James does things that only someone with a death wish would do, but not just his own death. The movie does clearly indicate the feelings of his team, but could this loose cannon style be realistic? Two scenes make little sense. The team meets some mercenaries in the desert and engages in a sniper duel and when investigating a bombing in the Green Zone, James sends the group up separate alleys hunting the bombers. I cannot imagine either of these scenarios actually occurring. However, the main theme of war being an adrenaline rush is realistic for some soldiers, especially bomb techs. The scene with James chafing at being safe at home and being overwhelmed by the variety of cereals at the grocery store certainly rings true for many veterans of combat.

Half-time score: Hurt – 17 Pearl - 11

ACCURACY: Pearl Harbor is not exactly a history lesson that replaces having to read a book about it. The basics are okay, but some key plot points are laughable to anyone knowing even the basics of the attack. Rafe would not have been allowed to join the Eagle Squadron while on active duty, nor be reassigned back to his original squadron if he had gotten into the Eagle Squadron. It is ridiculous to have Rafe and Danny participating in the Doolittle Raid. Are audiences so ignorant about the differences between fighter pilots and bomber pilots? Bay thinks so. While their back-stories are pure Hollywood, at least Rafe and Danny could be said to based on real heroes George Welch and Kenneth Taylor who actually shot down 6 planes that day (not the twenty or so that Rafe and Danny shot down). Kudos on the fairly accurate portrayal of Dorie Miller. Although some historians sniff at the fact that he may not have shot down any planes, it was appropriate to show him shooting down one. By the way, no nurses were killed in the attack. THL is a more difficult film to analyze for accuracy. It does not claim to be a true story. It is based on Mark Boal’s reporting as an embedded journalist with an EOD unit. James is a composite character (thank goodness). The techniques used are apparently fairly accurate, but procedures are off. Teams did not go off by themselves in lone Humvees. No tech would be allowed to keep parts of bombs. None would have broken communications with their team nor put their men in unreasonable jeopardy.

Score after three periods: Hurt – 24 Pearl – 17

ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: Pearl Harbor was roasted by the critics, but made a lot of money. That tells you a lot about the movie-going public. However, since this blog is aimed at war movie lovers, the movie is a lot less entertaining to discerning viewers. The CGI is fake-looking, the characters’ emotions are phony, the love story is ridiculous, the clichés are overwhelming, the dialogue is corny, etc. It is the moron’s answer to “Tora! Tora! Tora!” The Hurt Locker won the Best Picture award and is considered one of the best movies of the decade and the best movie about the Iraqi War. It has great acting, some amazing set pieces, and suspense. it also gets into the heads of modern American soldiers and shows the stresses of warfare in an urban environment with potential enemies blending in with the population. Basing an entertaining movie in Iraq was a sizable accomplishment for Kathryn Bigelow and she deserved the Best Director award.

Final score: Hurt – 32 Pearl - 24

Jarhead (8) vs. 300 (9)
We Were Soldiers (7) vs. Defiance (10)
Master and Commander (6) vs. Troy (11)
Flags of Our Fathers (5) vs. Enemy at the Gates (12)
Black Hawk Down (4) vs. Kingdom of Heaven (13)
Inglorious Basterds (3) vs. The Great Raid (14)
Letters from Iwo Jima (2) vs. Flyboys (15)

The Hurt Locker vs. The Great Raid
Letters from Iwo Jima vs. We Were Soldiers
300 vs. Master and Commander
Black Hawk Down vs. Flags of Our Fathers

***  The quarterfinal matches will be based on Character Development, Dialogue, Plausibility, and Action


  1. I have huge problems with the lack of credibility in The Hurt Locker. (my partner's an ex war correspondent and he's quite scathing on this matter). I'm particularly concerned that the director appears to be championing a cowboy approach to warfare. I think you gave it a good balanced assessment though.

  2. Thank you. My research found similar feelings from many vets. It may be just me, but I found the James character to be negatively portrayed. He is an anti-hero. I did not get the impression that Bigelow was trying to get the audience to root for him. After all, he accidentally shoots a team member after sending him on a lone wolf mission and he abandons his wife and baby to go risk his life some more. He is definitely a cowboy, but you would have to be an adrenaline junkie too to find him admirable. Perhaps you could get your partner to comment on what they know is ridiculous in the film. I would appreciate that.

  3. Why should he not be an anti-hero? After all these guys volunteer to be soldiers, how can that be positive in our times? Anyhow, I called The Hurt Locker "War Movie Gone Thriller" and that's what it is, a blend.

  4. I think Bigelow tries to have it both ways. Her decision to end the film by the chap walking in slow motion while rock music plays, I think that's a pretty heroic presentation. It's what's stuck with me anyway. I'll chat to my partner if I can - sadly, this is not a topic he likes to discuss very much. I do know that he loves Black Hawk Down - he was a photojournalist there at the time and says the depiction is very realistic.

  5. Sorry for responding to a topic over three years old but I just stumbled across your blog and have spent the past few weeks going through it. For the most part I agree with your assessments and find all of them interesting. Im commenting on this one because I participated in OIF and found THL rather offensive. Cue lengthy comment.

    Ill start off by saying the good part in this movie was the portrayal at the end regarding the disconnect between veterans and civilians, often their loved ones. Thats it in my opinion. The suicidal EOD team leader (worked with several EOD teams from both the Navy and Air Force), the single vehicle patrols, the sniping. The only EOD team Ive worked with that was trained with a Barrett .50 were the Navy guys and they worked with SEALs. Its been over four years since Ive watched it but Im sure my opinion of the film would not change if I could bring myself to watch it again. People whom Ive had this discussion with always defend the movie as being a well made movie. They defend Bigelow and claim she deserved Best Director. I dont care about either claim. Its offensively inaccurate and won much of its awards despite these inaccuracies. It may not be based on any real life character but it certainly gives inexperienced people a vision of OIF and that vision is a farce. That is the most frustrating consequence of this movies production. Shame on Time for declaring it a "near perfect war movie". Shame on those with no understanding of OIF or war in general for agreeing with Time despite veterans' remarks. Shame on those with experience in OIF who praise this movie regardless.

    0351 Infantry Assaultman with combat deployments in both OIF and OEF.

    1. I greatly appreciate your comments. I am getting ready to watch the movie for a review to determine if it will make my 100 Best list. That is when I will be concentrating on how accurate and realistic it is. I will attempt to confirm your complaints, but I have no reason to doubt them. To tell the truth I had a bad vibe from the movie the first time I saw it partly because parts seemed implausible.

  6. Think you for the quick reply! Looking forward to your review.


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