Ed Driscoll

War Is The Drug: Waiting For Hollywood To Produce 'The Ass-Kick Locker'

Jules Crittenden, who visited Iraq during its early, hot-war stage, reviews The Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow’s Academy-nominated film, and in the process echoes the words of Ian Fleming, “You only live twice: Once when you’re born, and once when you look death in the face.” Or Churchill’s famous maxim that “Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result”:

Finally saw The Hurt Locker last night. No, it is not the movie I have been waiting to see. You know, “The Ass-Kick Locker.” Step in the right direction, though.

The premise for Hurt Locker is stated pretty explicitly at the outset. Printed right on the screen: “War is a drug.”

This is very true, as any number of combat commentators can tell you. It can get you high. It can make you want more. To quote just a couple of the many acquaintances who have relayed similar sentiments:

“That shit gonna make me re-enlist.” Army Spec. Johnny “Smitty” Smith, Hindiyah, Iraq, March 31, 2003.

“We loved it. We enjoyed it.” Marine Cpl. Matthew Boisvert, Walter Reed Army Medical Center’s Ward 57, November 2004.

And I applaud Hollywood for attempting to explore this subject matter. It’s a game effort, and an intense, edge-of-your-seat cinematic experience. However …

The Hurt Locker’s high degree of realism is undermined but what appears to be an effort to tighten the focus on the three main characters. I could be wrong about this, not being that familiar with how EOD operates, but the degree to which these three guys operate without security, basically are doing infantry jobs unsupported, and getting into what appeared to be improbable situations was a distraction.

The war addiction is caricaturized and frankly not that well illustrated or explained. That also goes for the alienation from normal. This film shows it well, image-wise, but only skims the surface of its subject matter, and relies on extremes to make its point, and never really gets you under its hero’s skin. While they chose to keep the viewer undistracted by focusing almsot eclusively on three guys, I watched it from start to finish with the naggng sense that the same point could be made with a less extreme charcter within a much richer pallette within a route-clearing National Guard engineer company, for example, or any line infantry company.

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Here’s a little from Teflon Don of Acute Politics, who picked up where Michael left off. War Cocaine:

After the IED explodes, or the RPG whistles overhead, or the shot cracks past, there’s a moment of panic as you process the fact that you are still alive- that this time, they missed you. After that seconds hesitation, the rush hits.

No one really knows what it is, exactly, but we all feel it. It’s physical. It’s emotional. For some, it’s spiritual.Some say it’s endorphins or adrenaline; some say it’s rage, or hate, or joy. Some say it’s safety- the knowledge that Someone is watching out for you. It’s different for everyone, but it’s always there.

The first time I got blown up, I had to remind myself to get up and look around for the trigger man or possible gunmen set to take advantage of the confusion. I felt like I was floating through a world where time stood still. There’s something about looking directly at an artillery shell and seeing it vanish with a sharp crack and rush of dust and debris that changes you …

I’ve never felt more alive than I do in the moments after a near miss …

Some might call me sick, or crazy. I assure you that I am sane, and very much alive.

Sorry, can’t get enough of those guys, and I miss the place their writing took me back to. Maybe Hurt Locker would have benefited from a voiceover narration. Or, as I mentioned, a little more dramatic elaboration.

I applaud what I would like to think is an effort to get away from viewing these modern wars strictly through the lens of PTSD. I’m on the fence about whether that is really what they were trying to do here.

A Time review, declaring it a “near-perfect movie” says what Kathryn Bigelow is trying to say is that we need men like the war-addicted death-wisher Staff Sgt. William James played by Jeremy Renner. Maybe, but while the acting is superb, the screenplay is a little thin and problematic in the ways mentioned above, and that message struggles to get through.

What we have to seen out of Hollywood in general these last few years, unfortunately, is not much of an effort to appreciate the kind of men and women who have been doing this difficult work, or much of the nuance involved in their sacrifices and why they choose to do this, or any mention whatsoever of their not inconsiderable successes. Even if Hurt Locker is trying to get away from that, it still leaves us with a war-addicted hero with a death wish who is a reckless menace to his comrades.

I don’t care to belabor the politics of all that again. But the movie I’m still waiting to see is “The Ass-Kick Locker.”

Indeed. Bigelow was married for a time to James Cameron, the director of Avatar; in a recent edition of PJTV’s Poliwood, Roger L. Simon and Lionel Chetwynd reviewed the two movies and explained, “Why The Hurt Locker Beats Avatar.”