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.