"The Hurt Locker" has defused a bomb, with a judge throwing out a case filed by a U.S. serviceman who claimed the 2010 best picture winner had appropriated his story.
Sgt. Jeffrey Sarver had filed suit in the winter of 2010 against Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal claiming that the film, which Bigelow directed from Boal's screenplay, used significant details from Sarver's name and likeness in portraying the adrenalized bomb-disposal expert Will James (Jeremy Renner). It also claimed that the movie defamed Sarver with the James character.
Boal had spent time with Sarver when reporting an article for Playboy; the writer was embedded with Sarver's unit in Iraq and also interviewed him back in the U.S.
On Thursday, however, U.S. District Judge Jacqueline Nguyen dismissed the clam.
In issuing her ruling, Nguyen said that there were significant changes to the character, which meets the legal requirement that an on-screen depiction of a real-life person be "transformative." And she dismissed the defamation charge by engaging in a bit of film analysis, saying that the James character was not nearly as negative as the claim alleged.
"Plaintiff alleges that he is defamed because Will James is portrayed as a bad father who does not love his son. However, the Court does not agree with Plaintiff’s characterization of Will James as a man who does not love his son. In The Hurt Locker, Will James keeps photos of his son with him in Iraq and is shown visiting his wife and child while on leave from duty."
She further wrote that she found "no support in the movie for Plaintiff’s allegation that he is portrayed as a man who had no respect or compassion for human life. To the contrary, The Hurt Locker depicts Will James as having compassion for the Iraqi citizens whose lives are affected by the war," citing James' playing soccer with a young Iraqi boy.
Responding to the announcement, Boal released a statement saying that the film "was inspired by many soldiers I met and interviewed during my time reporting in Iraq and elsewhere. It was a disservice to all of those other soldiers for Sgt. Sarver to claim that he was the only soldier that was the basis for the hero of the film."
The suit called attention to the thorny world of fact-based films, a growing class of movies that sometimes run into problems when subjects come forward to challenge the version of events portrayed by the movies.
After the ruling, Jeremiah Reynolds, attorney for Boal and Bigelow, said that the decision "is a huge victory for all filmmakers who should feel comfortable using real-life events as inspiration for their films.
"No artist," he added, "should ever be forced to create entire fictional worlds that have no basis in reality simply because they fear the threat of meritless lawsuits.”
Photo: Jeremy Renner in "The Hurt Locker." Credit: Summit Entertainment