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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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'The Hurt Locker' Oscar imbroglio: Are there really any dark forces behind it?

Hurtlocker

If there were ever a quintessential example of Oscar hysteria, it's the past week of loopy media coverage reacting to a storm of criticism directed at "The Hurt Locker," Kathryn Bigelow's taut Iraq war thriller that had in recent weeks become a leading contender to win the Oscar for best picture this Sunday. Everyone likes to take pot shots at the Oscar front-runner. It's happened over and over in year's past, from a fusillade of attacks on the credibility of "A Beautiful Mind" a decade ago to a string of accusations against "Slumdog Millionaire" for its treatment of its Indian actors last year.

The-hurt-locker-movie-poster It's worth noting that both films won anyway. But I have to admit that I'm taking this year's media hysteria a little more personally, since my newspaper has somehow been cast as the bad guy, being the subject of charges that it has been manipulated by dark forces -- i.e. Harvey Weinstein -- in a supposed effort to harm "The Hurt Locker's" Oscar hopes.

Of course, many of "The Hurt Locker's" wounds have been self-inflicted. Nicolas Chartier, one of the film's producers, was disciplined by the academy the other day after sending out an unbelievably dumb e-mail to academy members, urging them to vote for his film rather than a "$500 million" behemoth -- an obvious reference to "Avatar," its arch Oscar rival. The "Hurt Locker" team is also now being sued by Jeffrey Sarver, an army sergeant who alleges that the film's main character, played by Jeremy Renner, was largely based on Sarver's own exploits in Iraq, pointing to the fact that Sarver was the focus of a lengthy Playboy story about bomb disposal experts in Iraq written by "Hurt Locker" screenwriter Mark Boal.

But what really got the blogosphere frothing at the mouth was an in-depth Feb. 26 front-page news story in the L.A. Times that quoted a variety of U.S. soldiers and bomb disposal experts criticizing the veracity of some of the film's scenes. Although the story also included high praise for the film from no less than Defense Secretary Robert Gates, it also had some explosive criticism from real-life EOD technicians, with one Iraq vet scoffing at a scene in which a bomb is defused with wire cutters, saying "it's similar to having a firefighter go into a building with a squirt bottle."

Most media observers instantly interpreted the story -- written by a three-person team, including an entertainment reporter, a Pentagon correspondent and a Baghdad-based war correspondent -- as an awards season hit piece designed to hurt the film's credibility with Oscar voters (even though the piece was published only days before the Oscar ballot deadline, after most members had likely filed their picks). Movieline's S.T. VanAirsdale offered a typical take on the piece, referring to as a "curiously timed dispatch," adding that while no one was second-guessing the Iraq soldiers' complaints about the film, "I'll totally second-guess the editors who seem to have left the 'Additional reporting by Harvey Weinstein in Baghdad' credit off the story."

It has a clever ring to it, but what evidence does VanAirsdale have that Weinstein had anything to do with the story? Ahem. None at all. VanAirsdale just tosses it out there because it has a nice ring to it. Meanwhile, The Wrap's Steve Pond has now weighed in, claiming that The TImes has published 11 stories in four days casting "The Hurt Locker" in a negative light. Of course, many of those "stories" were blog posts from our Oscar bloggers, who churn out posts at the speed of light, so it's hardly a surprise to find that -- especially with a huge lawsuit and an academy punishment of one of the film's producers making news -- that we'd have generated a lot of coverage.

Pond insinuates that the newspaper has some sort of campaign against the film. But when it comes to producing evidence, he has none. Zip. Nada. It makes his coverage feel just like all the usual whispering campaigns that Oscar consultants have used in the past to bash previous front-runners. 

The most depressing aspect of this whole imbroglio is that for all the reams of copy that been churned out about The Times' supposed campaign against "The Hurt Locker," no one bothered to mention that the paper has also written reams of stories casting the film in a favorable light, starting with this piece out of the Toronto Film Festival in 2008, and most recently a Feb. 28 front-page Sunday Calendar story that offered a glowing appreciation of Bigelow's work as a filmmaker. Bigelow was also the subject of another highly complimentary cover story in The Envelope, our paper's Oscar season weekly.

Equally dispiriting is the fact that none of these hapless second-guessers ever did any leg work to find out how the paper's front-page story about the film's accuracy came about in the first place. If they'd bothered to ask, they would've learned that the day after "The Hurt Locker" won its BAFTA Award, making it really look like the awards-season film to beat, the paper's top editors had a Monday-morning news meeting where one of the editors essentially asked a question that the paper had never fully answered -- what does the military, including boots-on-the-ground soldiers in Iraq, think of the movie? Three of our top reporters, including one of our Baghdad correspondents, set to work trying to come up with some answers, which resulted in our front-page story.

It remains the most in-depth piece written about the film's complex mixture of questionable dramatic license and vivid authenticity, but if you only read the Oscar season's blogosphere chattering class, you'd think it was part of a deep, dark plot to bring the movie down. It just goes to show -- when it comes to awards season reporting, why would any of the Oscar pundits ever let the facts get in the way when they could indulge in crackpot conspiracy theories?    

Photo from "The Hurt Locker" from Summit Entertainment

 
Comments () | Archives (14)

The comments to this entry are closed.

my reaction to the "legitimate" criticism - EOD techs, active military - is: so?

it's fiction. does ultra-realism just mean people have license to nitpick? did reporters go hound detectives and bank robbers to find out what they really thought of "Heat"?

i don't care if the movie shows one or two soldiers doing something out-of-line or against orders - that stuff happens enough that it's a totally valid topic. would it have been the same movie if everyone just followed the rules? that's what good storytelling is: conflict, confusion, determination. movies show unusual situations, they show when things go wrong and how people make them right.

Yawn. Is there anything more numbing than self-important media reporting on themselves?

Soldiers whinging about the veracity of the film need to take a chill pill.

Narrative films alway sacrifice precise accuracy to good story. Do these nit-pickers actually believe that cars routinely explode on impact like in the movies? That avalanches are triggered by loud noises, like in the movies? That spies actually drink martinis & wear tuxedos while shooting weapons made from desksets, like in the movies?

Grow up.

So what? Industry insiders are bad mouthing a movie producer for a severe lapse of good sense? A former U.S. soldier is bad mouthing a production company because he believes the plotline of the movie was stolen from a portion of his life??
Puh-leeze...
You vote in your fashion for the movie you think was the best or delivered the most in whichever Academy category it was nominated.
As they say in the screening room, people: Focus!

Um, the movie has been out for several months now, but only when it's Oscar voting season do we hear about how it's "inaccurate" or "offensive" or that someone's suing over it. THAT is why there's shenanigans going on about the film. We wouldn't hear boo about it if this was November and the movie was still finding a niche audience. and not gaining massive critical acclaim. To so blithely dismiss these "out of the blue" tales coming just as award season is ending, well, it comes across as a little bit arrogant.

As far as I'm concerned, the LA Times has the best, most in depth coverage of the business. Period. I don't understand why anyone would imply that the paper would capitulate to a producer who is (if reports are to be believed), barely hanging on to his own company and whose own offering for Best Picture is widely regarded as a well liked but fantastical long shot.
These foaming at the mouth conspiracy theorists need to find something better to write about, seriously.

I'll be posting later on ym website today but "The Hurt Locker" isn't accurate as a war film. And yet everyone, critics, pundits, normal people, think it is practically a documentary. Its not, and thats part of its appeal.

This movie stunk, just another 'join the army' infomercial. SAD

Mr. Goldstein is protesting a bit too much. All the negative reporting on Hurt Locker coming uniquely out of the Times is just a coincidence. Got it. Has it anything to do with the increased ad space purchased by certain studios in recent weeks? Nope. Got it. Bloggers published by the Times don't count since they write so much. Got it. Other nominees have not had the same scrutiny? Another coincidence. Got it.

It *might* be believable, but given the Times disgraceful history of omissions and timed hits, I'll remain a skeptic.

What? A film taking dramatic license? The horror!

Get over yourself, LA Times.

 
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