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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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More 'Hurt Locker' controversy: Was it based on a real bomb disposal expert's life?


If you've read the original Playboy article that Mark Boal wrote about the exploits of bomb disposal experts in Iraq -- the story that he used as a jumping-off point for his Oscar-nominated original screenplay for "The Hurt Locker" -- then you've spent a lot of time reading about Sgt. Jeffrey Sarver and his team of bomb squad technicians.

Now, according to a press release put up on the Web by Sarver's lawyer, Sarver is planning to sue the makers of "The Hurt Locker," claiming that he is in fact Will James, the film's main character played by Jeremy Renner.

According to the release, the suit will allege that "virtually all of the situations portrayed in the film, were, in fact, occurrences involving Master Sgt. Sarver that were observed and documented" by Boal. The suit will also contend that Sarver coined the phrase "The Hurt Locker" for Boal. According the release, the suit will argue that the filmmakers "falsely claim" that the characters in the film are fictional and that the filmmakers "decided to cheat" Sarver out of financial participation in the film. 

I haven't been able to reach Sarver's lawyer Geoffrey Fieger (who is planning to hold a press conference tomorrow), but I just got off the phone with Boal, who says the charges are baseless. "I think Sarver is a brave soldier and a good guy," he told me. "Like a lot of soldiers, he identifies with the film, but the character I wrote is fictional. The film is a work of fiction inspired by many people's stories."

I haven't seen the lawsuit, which Sarver's lawyers say will be filed Wednesday. But Boal says that he never made any attempt to buy Sarver's life rights because he had always wanted the freedom to fictionalize the stories he heard from soldiers he met during his research for the Playboy article, which appeared in the magazine's September 2005 issue under the title "The Man in the Bomb Suit."

There are some details in the magazine piece that also appear in the film. Boal, for example, says that Sarver keeps recovered bomb parts in a box by his bed, just as James does in the film. But Boal told me: "Many soldiers keep souvenirs like that." The piece also describes an unsuccessful attempt to disarm a bomb with a robot, leading Sarver to "take the long walk by himself in a bomb suit," an incident re-created in the film. However, Boal contends that those sort of incidents "happen every day -- it's what those guys do for a living."

He adds: "There are similarities, because you'd find similarities to events that happened to lots of these guys. But the screenplay is not about him. I talked to easily over 100 soldiers during my research and reshuffled everything I learned in a way that would be authentic, but would also make for a dramatic story."

As for the charge that Sarver coined the phrase "the hurt locker," Boal responded: "That's totally untrue. It would be like coining the phrase 'live free or die.' It's military slang that's in common usage. I heard it from lots of other people other than him."

Boal acknowledges that Sarver wasn't entirely happy about the way he was portrayed in the original Playboy story. "He was a little [peeved] about the way he came out in it. There were little details that I got wrong. And he didn't always like the way he'd been characterized, which obviously involved things were really important to him."

However, Boal says that he invited Sarver to see the first screening of "The Hurt Locker" in New York shortly before its release. "He liked it and told me, 'Nice job.' " Boal recalls. "He wasn't upset. He even invited some of us to visit the military base where he was stationed in New Jersey. I didn't know there was a problem until recently, when the lawyers got involved."

 Photo: Jeremy Renner in "The Hurt Locker." Credit: Jonathan Olley / Summit Entertainment.

Comments () | Archives (11)

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If common sense prevails, Sgt. Jeffrey Sarver will lose his suit. Nary a movie or book was written that didn't contain some resemblance to a real life person. Hard to write about human lives without human beings identifying. Great movie - good luck Mark Boal.

You never want to hear that your heroes are human and make mistakes just like everyone else. You want to keep them on a pedestal and consider them "above the crowd." Unfortunately, that is all mindset, not reality. Sarver saw part of himself in the film. He saw common things that he and other bomb experts do on a regular basis. But somehow, either he was talked into suing by someone unscrupulous, or external issues occurred and suddenly he saw the fame and money generated and common self-interest raised its ugly head. I applaud these soldiers with all due respect for the incredible job they perform because I cannot do it myself. And this incident does not diminish that. But unless Sarver has CREDIBLE documentation of payments promised and such, he should just go write his own book and make his own movie but his claims are just another way to make some lawyer money and smear his own credibility. I hope someone talks some good sense into him and he drops the lawsuit.

Well I guess this puts to rest the idea that it wasn't authentically based on real soldiers or real military procedures. Sounds like Boal really did his research.

I don't think yet another money hungry person bringing a lawsuit, especially when his claims have no verification, prove anything about the film's authenticity. I would believe numerous soldiers who have said the film is "behaviorally" inaccurate (more important then costumes, etc) then one person trying to get money.

I believe that Mark Boal may be somewhat disingenuous. His writing may be based on hundreds of soldiers but are they all bomb squad technicians? If that was the case like he said, did Mark Boal invite all those 100 soldiers to the first screening of the movie? If not, why would he invite only Sgt. Jeffrey Sarver to the screening? If Sgt. Sarver was the only bomb squad technician invited to the screening, then it demonstrated that Mark Boal based his writing mainly on the character of Sgt. Sarver.

The soldier should just feel honored that his likeness/habits were used to make a great film. If he was a true patriot, he would just be happy about the film, and that he served as a soldier to protect freedoms.

Maybe Sarver's ability to identify with the character is testament to how accurate the story depicts the life of bomb squad personnel.

Surely a person who is interviewed during the course of his work duties should assume a story will soon follow. Was Sarver forced of tricked into giving up information? Now that would be worthy of a law suit.

From: Nicolas Chartier
Sent: Tuesday, December 22, 2009 8:07 PM
To: Todd Weglarz
Subject: RE: Sgt Sarver / The Hurt Locker

Hi I’m sorry I’ve never heard of sergeant sarver/will james. I don’t understand is he an actor named will james or jeffrey sarver, I just looked on internet movie database and neither are in the film. I can google but maybe you can tell me who is he and why he’s not happy? Everyone says it’s one of the best movies of the year, did he just not like the popcorn when he watched the movie? I haven’t taken any grossly unfair action against him, I’ve never heard of him. what negative impact, who’s that man? Did I steal his girlfriend? Never heard of him.

best regards,
Nicolas Chartier
Voltage Pictures, LLC

From: Todd Weglarz
Sent: Tuesday, December 22, 2009 4:53 PM
To: Nicolas Chartier
Subject: Sgt Sarver / The Hurt Locker
Importance: High

Dear Mr. Chartier:

Attached please find correspondence regarding Sgt. Jeffrey Sarver (“Will James”) & The Hurt Locker. Thank you for your attention to this matter.

boal's excuse for not bying the rights to sergeant sarver's story is so thin as to be an admission of theft...he could have, at leasst, made an offer that did not include approvals...if boal was not embedded as a screen writer with signed releases/permission from the troops, sarver ought to prevail...his story is his as the rights to its commerical development should be.



The fact that Mr. Boal specifically invited Sgt. Sarver to preview the movie, and only Sgt. Sarver, speaks mountains.

The denials and hand-waving of Mr. Boal, Mr. Chartier and their representatives aside, this is just all too easy to get to the bottom of.  You know that the comrades with whom Sergeant  Sarver served and whose lives that Sergeant Sarver has saved through his bravery will be quite willing to set the record straight !  Sarver 1, Boal 0.

Talk about someone who seeks to profit from the heroism and sacrifice of others without credit given where credit is due -- this is a pretty obvious case. If the producers and promoters of this movie want to preserve and uphold the good reputation of others who are involved in the project, including the director Kathryn Bigelow, they owe it to Sergeant Sarver to come clean about the source behind the script.   The truth will come out anyway.  Too bad the sequel to the movie may be about the smarmier side of movie making -- especially since the story is one that clearly deserves to be told, and was told in an effective way.

Unfortunately, once you have paraded out your denials, dismissals, and uppity attitude, it takes a bigger man than apparently either Mr. Chartier or Mr. Boal are in order to do the right thing.  But it will be interesting, perhaps even entertaining, to see Mr. Boal et. al. squirm and sweat a bit as they try to defuse the public relations bomb which has landed in *their* lap.

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