Monday, 8 March 2010

Why The Hurt Locker Matters

This post will probably be less about The Hurt Locker than it will be about Iraq, and will probably be less about Iraq than it will be about me.

The day after I was born, Israeli jets bombed the (French built) Osirak Nuclear plant in Iraq. I was nine when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, and I can still remember hearing the news on TV AM when military action began the following February. The other class in my year would write letters to British Forces in the Gulf, and got a signed photo of a Tornado in return. Yes, I'm still bitter that our teacher never let my class do that. When that war ended, the nice old woman who lived across the road had her bungalow decked out in Union Jacks to welcome her son home. In time, I devoured the memoirs of that conflict; Bravo Two Zero, The One That Got Away (filmed by Paul Greengrass) and Tornado Down. Of course, the conflict didn't end there; British and American forces continued to patrol the skies over the south and north of Iraq, occasionally bombing sites in the country. People who dismissed Blair as Bush's poodle should note that Blair was bombing Iraq as part Operation Desert Fox while Bush was still a failing and flailing Governor of Texas. The continued presence of American troops on Saudi soil was, of course, a major feature of Osama bin Laden's 1998 fatwa against the US.

The 2003 Iraq War politicised my generation like no other event. I moved to London last year, and now my MP is the one figure in British political life that did not only oppose the war, but became a cheerleader for the other side. Seven years after the invasion, we're still there, both physically and psychologically (the Chilcot inquiry rumbles on). After their elections, Iraq is on the front pages of the papers today. So for most of my life my country, and the US, has existed in a state of war with either the government of Iraq or some element of the people of Iraq.

And how many good films have been made about this? A few. Off the top of my head, I can think of Three Kings, Jarhead and now The Hurt Locker. Greengrass's Green Zone is out this week, so I will reserve judgement until I've seen that, but that's not a great showing, is it? Three films in near enough twenty years. Too often films that deal with the subject - I'm thinking of In The Valley of Elah - like The Hurt Locker, scripted byMark Boal, and Stop Loss too - do so not only from an American perspective, but one in which the action takes place at home. To paraphrase from a book I read about Vietnam War films years ago, the tragedy of a film like Redacted is not that people were killed, but that Americans debased themselves by killing them. That said, Nick Broomfield's Battle For Haditha was a decent stab at depicting an actual event, but otherwise unremarkable. A film like Avatar beats us about the head with allusions to the conflict - mentions of "shock and awe" "daisy cutters" and "martyrs" are thrown at us in quick succession just before the final battle, just to ram the point home. Other than that, it's slim pickings if you want a decent modern war film.

Television has served the Iraq War better than film - Generation Kill being a notable example, and the BBC have made a good fist of it with Ten Days To War, a series of shorts about the run up to the invasion, and the three parter Occupation, which dealt with the aftermath of the war.

The Hurt Locker
worked because it didn't wear its politics on its sleeve - it just told a thrillingly tense story of a bomb disposal team in Iraq. Kathryn Bigelow said that "wars dirty little secret" is that some men enjoy it. No Michael Moore style hectoring, no self pity because Americans killed or were killed, just a rollickingly good movie. Given that we're only just seeing films that deal with the 1982 Lebanon War now, it may be some time before we see more Iraq War films, but when we do, let's hope they are more like The Hurt Locker than most that came before it.

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