I’ve always been a huge Kathryn Bigelow fan. Near Dark is certainly the greatest redneck vampire film ever made, and who can forget the flaming gasoline-wielding “ex presidents” in Point Break? I even liked the gun fetishist stalker in Blue Steel, so when The Hurt Locker came out last year, I was very excited. Pretty much as soon as it arrived in London, I called up my friend Jonah and off we went to see it in Piccadilly Circus.
Jonah and I met in Gaza. We are both journos who have spent a fair bit of time embedded with the US military in Iraq, which I guess either makes us the perfect audience or the worst audience for this film. I hate to say that when we came out of the movie, we were both disappointed.
Let me begin by saying what Bigelow did get right. The film, shot in Amman, Jordan, looks like Baghdad. The dirt, the dust, the omnipresent brown, the ugly concrete block architecture, the empty and garbage-strewn boulevards, the trailers on the American bases, all look real. The handheld 16mm cameras make it feel like documentary footage. The relationships between the soldiers are spot on. There is a wonderful scene where reckless cowboy Sergeant James spots targets for the sniper rifle-wielding Sergeant Sanborn. The two had just had a big fight but they work together with the practiced professionalism that is the hallmark of the US military. In combat, the dispute, the disagreements are forgotten. Each man does his job, supports his comrade.
Before making Apocalypse Now, Francis Ford Coppola famously made a list of all the things that should go into a Vietnam war movie. If I were to make such a list for Iraq, it would include: Egyptian interpreters who don’t understand Iraqi Arabic and their American bosses who don’t have a clue they are making up both questions and answers, US soldiers who spend their entire tour in Iraq never leaving the base, and grizzled Mississippian truck drivers earning over $100,000 a year hauling the pork chops and ice cream from Kuwait that feed the troops. But the most important thing I would include is the casual killing of innocent Iraqi…