The View From Here

Oscar Watch - at war with The Hurt Locker

Michael Bonner

At the time of writing, the Oscars are three days away, and some folks, it seems, are getting jittery. Avatar, James Cameron’s lumbering 3D epic – seen by many as a shoe-in at Sunday’s ceremony – doesn’t appear quite the sure bet it was a few weeks ago. The reason? The significant head of steam built up by Kathryn Bigelow’s bomb disposal drama, The Hurt Locker.

Doing the rounds of the Awards ceremonies, Bigelow’s film has conclusively trumped Cameron’s – 15 Best Picture awards for The Hurt Locker against 2 for Avatar.

There’s been plenty of meat for hungry Oscar watchers to get their teeth into along the way, of course. There’s the David and Goliath tussle – Avatar’s $300m budget and phenomenal box office success vs The Hurt Locker’s slimline $15m; it’s the Little Film That Could. Then there’s the fact Cameron and Bigelow were once married. This appears to be a dead-end issue, in fact; Cameron and Bigelow are reportedly still close, and both sought each other’s advice on their respective movies.

All the same, it’s interesting to see how, over the last few weeks before the Oscar ballot closed on Tuesday March 2, The Hurt Locker has become the target of a negative campaign. Among the most interesting, arguably, was a story in the Los Angeles Times on February 25, which questioned the film’s authenticity, with active soldiers and veterans claiming the film doesn’t depict combat accurately.

I wonder quite how relevant an issue this really is. When has a war movie genuinely presented conflict as it really was? Looking back at the last significant wave of war movies – the canon of Vietnam movies from the Seventies – and they’re flawed in the way they portrayed the war. Of that initial slew of Vietnam movies - Coming Home, The Boys In Company C and The Deer Hunter – they touched on Viet Nam, but weren’t really about the conflict. The came Apocalypse Now, which might capture some of the extreme madness and horror (the horror…) fighting in the jungles of South East Asia, but had little to do with the accuracy of that conflict. That Coming Home, The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now are widely seen as occupying the upper echelons of that glorious canon of Seventies’ movies is based less on the veracity of their depiction of war, but down to other factors.

For many, it’s Oliver Stone’s Platoon that stands as the first, real and accurate depiction of the war. But even that received as many brickbats and plaudits. Stone, decorated during his service in Vietnam, came under fire from the far-right, with Washington Times' writer John Podhoretz calling it "one of the most repellent movies ever made in this country." Meanwhile, John Wheeler, chairman of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, said: “Platoon makes us real… it is part of the healing process.”

All the same, in much the same way that its predecessors like Coming Home, The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now aren’t really Vietnam war movies, The Hurt Locker isn’t really a film about Iraq. It simply uses the setting as a way to examine the way certain men respond under pressure. But, more generally, I wonder since when has accuracy or truth telling been a prerequisite of the movies? Films are just films, surely?


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