A Marine’s critical review of The Hurt Locker

I finally watched The Hurt Locker last night. I was sorely disappointed. For a movie that has been receiving awards left and right, I expected more. A lot more.

Let’s start with the portrayal of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal tech, Sergeant James. He’s a cavalier, reckless, careless, adrenaline junkie. He disregards all safety, tactics, techniques, and procedures, to just walk up on IEDs, brazenly clear buildings, and save the day. Bullshit.EOD technicians are carefully selected. The job has the highest requirement for ASVAB scores to get in, plus technical scores and testing. Besides that, EOD techs are put through a rigorous process to receive a TSCI clearance. That means Top Secret Compartmentalized Information. What that basically means is that you have a clearance above Top Secret. The information you know is compartmentalized in your department, so that even people that have a TS clearance aren’t cleared to know it. For example, how to disarm nuclear weapons.

During this process there is a background check and a character check. You see a clinical psychologist, and your family, friends, neighbors, teachers, etc—are all interviewed about your character, your history, your performances.

An idiot like this character would not make it through. Not even close.

Let’s move on past character flaws. Let’s talk tactics. In the beginning of the film, while using the robot—which looked like the MKII Talon?—the tactics were solid. Risk the robot, not the soldier. They only moved on the IED when the robot failed. Of course, I would have just put the wheel back on the trailer with C4 on it, so I wouldn’t have to walk up on the IED. That’s just me.

During that scene one of the characters states, “four blocks of C4—about 20 pounds worth of explosives”. What? Don’t they even have Wikipedia in Hollywood? A basic search would find that each block of C4 is only 1.25 pounds of explosive.

The IED factory. First, on their way out of the base, there’s no escort. It’s a court martial offense to leave the wire with less than six men on a patrol. What would happen if their Humvee broke down? Of course, a nice MRAP drives by in this scene, which, in 2004 where only driven by EOD techs.

Okay, so the grunts have called EOD to remove ordnance from a factory. Yet when they get there, the grunts tell them that no one has entered the building. What? How do you know there’s explosives inside? Then the three techs enter and clear the building. No way. EOD does not clear buildings. They’re not trained for it. That’s what the grunts do. Besides, the size of that building necessitates a squad sized element to clear it.

Of course, once the building is clear and they see the dead kid, the “body bomb”, they leave James inside. Alone. GTFO. There’s no way you would EVER leave a man on his own in Iraq. Or in any war zone for that matter. That’s a death sentence. So after EOD heads out of the building and he disarmed the kid bomb, the mental health officer gets killed. No, not killed, vaporized. As it turns out, in real life, people don’t vaporize. You find body parts. Everywhere. You get covered in them. It’s horrific and I prefer not to go into the details.

Next up, there’s a complex daisy chained IED that James finds. He pulls up all six or seven shells by pulling on the detcord connecting them all. Well, each 155mm round weighs about 100 pounds or more. It’s a little hard to believe that skinny ole Sergeant James can pull up 600-700 pounds while wearing his bomb suit.

Next up, the drinking. I don’t know what unit doesn’t find it odd that there’s screaming, fighting, and carrying drunk soldiers back to their bunks. Someone doesn’t find it odd that there’s screaming and yelling? It’s a war zone. I’m going to start wondering what the hell’s going on.

So James is mad about this kid, so he jumps into the guy’s truck, heads outside the base, alone, and goes renegade on us. Now I’m screaming at the TV, the producers, the filmmakers, and everyone involved. Nothing like that would ever happen. Do you know how much his head is worth? He would have been snatched up, delivered to the insurgents, and his beheading would have been shown on Al-Jazeera. End of story. Then, when he comes back, the soldiers don’t report him? Some idiot heads outside the wire on his own, I would have reported him because his stupidity puts everyone else at risk. Not that he hadn’t been putting everyone in danger beforehand.

After all of these errors, they make an almost fatal tactical error when there’s the large tanker IED near the end of the film. The three of them head away from support, split up, and start wandering through the city. Alone. All three of them. What happened to their jobs? Isn’t anyone wondering why EOD isn’t doing a post blast?

Let’s wrap this up, though I could go on and on, with one good point. The portrayal of the soldier who didn’t fire when his team leader was killed, who later gets shot by James (who suffers no prosecution for it?) was a fairly accurate character as far as the emotional and mental breakdown that men go through in combat. Of course, we don’t delve into this character too much, he is hurt and sent home so we can get back to the bravado. I for one related to this guy. The film disappointed me when it portrayed him as weak, as fearful. I think his mindset is the most common amongst combat troops. Yet, we fall back into the formulaic portrayal of the hotshot.

Sending James back to Iraq without addressing why he is the way he is, because of all the things he has been through, really does the film a disservice. It ends abruptly, when there was the chance to expand greatly on what REALLY happens to a man put through the trials of war. Perhaps a little more of the budget could have been spent fact checking, and highlighting the emotional states of the characters, letting us get to know and care about them, rather than just showing the bravado good ‘ol boy stuff.


  1. It must be said that Hollywood NEVER gets the military right, from little things to covers indoors to big things like what kind of person would get what kind of clearance.

    But the movie DOES do something important and this is raise awareness. I’ve never taken a movie about the military at face value, it always a metaphor for one thing or another, and I’m fine with that, more so now as you, Marine, are given the opportunity to set the technical record straight, no matter how accurate the emotional truths portrayed are.

  2. It was an entertaining film, but I am glad to have your realistic perspective on the film, after the fact. I accepted long ago that Hollywood take a lot when it comes to creative license in their film-making, so I was able to get through it, but all the while, in the back of my mind, I was also thinking, “I wonder what my military friends and family would have to say about the authenticity of this film?”
    The director should have spent a few thousand dollars (or more) to hire you as a whatchamacallit… um… somebody help me here…

    • A military advisor? Well, I don’t know much about how the Army operates, but if there is anyone wanting to make a Marine movie, here is my open application for the position. I would be honore to be a military advisor for any filmmaker who wants their film to be a gritty, realistic, and accurate portrayal that will be accepted by veterans and moviegoers alike.

  3. THANK YOU!!!! I’m not even in the military and I felt the EXACT same way about this flic. This kind of selective reality portrayed as fact is offensive not only to our troops, but also to the viewer of such movies… The sad thing is that people automatically believe this crap and think the military is some kind of wild bunch running around like fools with no structure or planning or rules. I just wrote a BLOG on the same exact topic. Please check it out and let me know what you think. danielrulezdood.wordpress.com

    • Good catch on the time machine factors. I didn’t even catch the YouTube error, much less the iPod. Since the filmmakers are banking so well on the movie, I do hope they are donating at least something to veterans outreach groups, wounded warrior support centers, or the like. It would be a shame for Ms. Bigelow to mention her thanks to all the troops and not take action.

  4. way to say it Mark, I have not even seen the movie and don’t intend to as I get too upset. I too hope that some of the cash that rolls in is dedicated to help the soldiers that return and need that help. I am honored to read anything that you write as I know it is the “truth” from one that really knows it! Keep it up and I hope that you are healingyourself~

  5. Hollywood does this time and time again. To start out with, The Pacific: Gunnery Sergeant Basilone (The actual one) died of being hit by a mortar shell directly, in The Pacific, he was killed dramatically by a shot through the chest.

  6. Glad to see that I’m not the only one who screamed BS at this movie. All my army mates loved it but I kept pointing out that he should have more discipline and not be alone. I actually didn’t mind the bit where he went home to his wife, tried to talk to her about things and she didn’t want to know. That’s about the only realistic bit I found as that can happen. Unfortunately out of about 20+ people, I was the only one to notice that.

  7. THANK YOU!!! I was getting soooo sick of all the gushiness that hollywood was slathering on this movie. I too was calling BS throughout…altho it was entertaining,the thought of anyone answering to noone and going off cowboy every day….just pisses me off… it seems that ANY actor that’s worn the uniform for a couple months thinks they know what it’s about!

  8. Thank you! Well said on all points. Maybe if Hollywood ever care about portraying something realistically, you’ll have a job as a consultant! As a movie: Entertaining? Yes. Realistic? No. Ground breaking? Definitely not. Did it deserve all the acclaim and awards? I don’t think so.
    PS: Great site mate. Love your work. Stay safe.

  9. It is based on a true story I believe. It is true that EOD is screaned carefuly. but for some people they are hands on. they work better that way. i work better when i am hands on XD

    • You are mistaken. It was written by a screen writer, who spent a couple weeks overseas with an EOD unit ad then wrote this atrocity. He even failed to notice that YouTube didn’t exist in 2004, nor did the new Army digital camouflage pattern.

  10. disregard my last comment. 😛 sorry. the thing is the mental health officer was RIGHT NEXT TO THE BOMB. that equal no body. those would have been 155 howitzer shells too. probably three or two.

    • Modern explosives do not disintegrate people. There are always remains and body parts left behind, I’ve picked them up personally.

  11. just asking, why does it matter that much that the military has to be correctly depicted to the finest detail? i mean of course its best to have an accurate depiction, to avoid wrong judgements towards the military by the civilians and so on, but the Hurt Locker is a movie, not a documentary. I am pretty sure that the faults that were made in the movie were not done to piss the veterans and military off, but was done so that the movie flows and the character development is fulfilled.

  12. Movies aren’t made to be taken literally…and few are accurate. This is most apperant to people who watch movies that relate to things they’ve actually done. Screen writers and directors try to make a message in the movie. For a guy like you, whose obviously actually been where this movie tries to take it’s viewers, you probably found it hard to watch. But most of the movie going public have never been in the Armed Service, and even fewer in actual combat. Movies are made for layman. Heck….they don’t even have their name tags on the right side of their unis in some scenes. I work in the legal proffession. Every movie ever depicting a trial is wildly overexxagerated. I try and pay more attention to the plot.

  13. Nice post which Then, when he comes back, the soldiers don’t report him? Some idiot heads outside the wire on his own, I would have reported him because his stupidity puts everyone else at risk. Not that he hadn’t been putting everyone in danger beforehand. Thanks a lot for posting this article.

  14. A background check should really be enforced for specific folks
    who keep particular jobs.

  15. Was reading your review. Practically ever point you made was true. But when you said that they don’t clear buildings I am not so sure. When they were shaving the movie basically told us they were Rangers which are supposed to be the best of the best, so I am pretty sure that they have CQ training. As for test reviews…surely you aren’t blind enough to know that if someone has a outstanding score in something you simply are not going to deny them, and if he truly diffused a large number of IED’s that proves invaluable to the army so they would give someone a little more leash. I respect the army and all who join but don’t be so blind or stupid as to think that even it cannot bend. All it takes is the right people at the right time.

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