Brian Turner’s The Hurt Locker

Brian Turner

You may or you may not know that the movie The Hurt Locker was inspired by a poem.  The poem is from Brian Turner’s first collection Here, Bullet. Turner is a US Army veteran. He was stationed in Bosnia Herzegovina and Iraq.

The Hurt Locker
Nothing but hurt left here.
Nothing but bullets and pain
and the bled-out slumping
and all the fucks and goddamns
and Jesus Christs of the wounded.
Nothing left here but the hurt.

 

Believe it when you see it.
Believe it when a twelve-year-old
rolls a grenade into the room.
Or when a sniper punches a hole
deep into someone’s skull.
Believe it when four men
step from a taxicab in Mosul
to shower the street in brass
and fire. Open the hurt locker
and see what there is of knives
and teeth. Open the hurt locker and learn
how rough men come hunting for souls.

 

Here’s Turner reading his poem and explaining its title.

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Homeland (2011- ) US TV Series starring Claire Danes and Damian Lewis

I’ve finally got a chance to watch the first few episodes of The US TV series Homeland.

Marine Sergeant Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) went missing in Iraq eight years ago, one of his friends who was there with him was found dead. His return causes quite a commotion. Not only among the public, journalists and the CIA but also in his family. He left a young wife and two small children behind when he went missing. His wife is having an affair with a friend and superior, the children are almost teenagers and estranged. And then there is Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes), an intense CIA officer who thinks that he has been turned by his captors and is plotting a terrorist attack on America.

Mathison made a lot of mistakes in the past and the CIA would like to get rid of her. Nobody believes her suspicions at first, she doesn’t get funding and decides to act on her own, breaking one federal law after the other, installing surveillance cameras in Brody’s home, following his each and every move, trying to catch him making contact.

The series kicks of well, it’s gripping and suspenseful, the premise, a US soldier who may only have survived captivity because he was turned, is interesting. Still, I had a few reservations. I wonder whether it is that realistic, to free someone from an eight year captivity and to push him right away to face journalists, politicians, CIA and the masses. The other problem I had, was the character Claire Danes played. She is driven and ambitious and a bit of a lunatic. On top of that she pops pills. We learn later that it is clonazepam – in other words a benzo – a heavy antipsychotic which is often used for unspecific or atypical psychosis. Hmmm…. Not sure what to think about that. Usually I have problems with the depiction of mental illness in movies and books. But I haven’t seen enough yet, so maybe they will get it right. It’s obvious that they want to make us doubt the character. It’s not an easy role, whether it will be believable in the end or not, and I think, Claire Danes does a great job.

Carrie is also tracking one of the most important terrorists, Abu Nazir. When she interrogates Brody she asks him whether he has met him during his captivity and he lies and says no.

As said, it starts quite good, quite intense but I couldn’t tell yet where it is going or whether I will really like it or not. But it’s certainly worth trying.

Courage Under Fire (1996)

I have seen at least six of Edward Zwick’s movies (Glory, Legends of the Fall, Last SamuraiBlood Diamond and Defiance) and was only disappointed once when I watched Defiance. Courage Under Fire may not be the best but I still liked watching and re-watching it. For one it’s one of the very rare war movies with a female main character but it also tells a suspenseful and quite complex story. It may not be anti-war as such but manages to make us understand a few things. Last but not least I tend to watch every movie with Denzel Washington. Zwick has worked with him before, notably in Glory which is one of the most outstanding war movies you can watch.

Colonel Sterling (Denzel Washington) is asked to investigate whether chopper pilot K. Walden (Meg Ryan) who was killed in action was worthy of a medal of honour. The assignment is Sterling’s second chance, an opportunity to rehabilitate himself. Ever since he came back from Iraq where he took part in Desert Storm, he has changed. He is drinking, withdrawn and slowly unraveling. He cannot forgive himself that due to his order a friendly tank was blown up. Far less can he accept that the event is not called what it was and that he had to lie to the parents of one of the crew and tell them their son died as a hero under enemy fire.

As a first step in the investigation of officer Walden’s worthiness he questions the crew her chopper came to rescue before it was shot down. The men tell what they heard, they didn’t see a lot. Walden’s huey and her crew went down between those they came to rescue and the enemy. They took all of the fire during the night and in the early morning.  The men remember having heard a M16 until just before both parties were rescued by another chopper.

At this point in time, Sterling doesn’t know that Walden is not only a heroic soldier but that Walden is a woman and would be the first woman to ever receive a medal of honour. After having questioned the rescued crew he has to interrogate Walden’s crew members one by one. Her co-pilot is in a wheel chair, he was seriously wounded and cannot remember what happened on the ground. Ilario the medic (Matt Damon), parises Karen and her decision making but Monfriez (Lou Diamond Phillips), an angry, aggressive soldier, tells him that Walden was a coward.

The whole story is revealed layer by layer and in flash backs. We see what happened from different points of view and after a while it is clear someone is lying. It will be Sterling’s duty to find out whether she was a coward as some say or a hero deserving of the highest decoration.

The movie interweaves two stories, the investigation of Karen Walden and Sterling’s fight to come to terms with what happened in Iraq.

I liked the way the movie showed how different points of view change a story, how there may be more than one truth. Despite the fact that some of her crew lied, they still all saw different aspects of how it happened. It’s not a court-room drama but it has elements of it and is quite suspenseful.

One of the main topics however is women in the military. When Sterling hears that the medal of honour is destined for a woman we see that he has a problem. The idea is so new and strange to him that he has a hard time to absorb it at first. On the other hand, because the medal is destined for a woman, his superiors hope this is an opportunity to get as much positive media coverage as possible and would give it to her whether she deserved it or not.

The actors are good but that is to a large extent due to the characters. They are all interesting, very well-developed characters. What I liked a lot is the way the movie is structured. The changing between action- and dialogue sequences and more introspective moments. It’s a very balanced movie. The message is another story. It’s not an anti-war film. It is about people who love being in the military, who find the life as a soldier or pilot the most fascinating there is. People who put duty and honor before their family but still struggle to find a balance.

I think it’s very well done, entertaining and certainly a must for all the Denzel Washington, Meg Ryan and Matt Damon fans and those who appreciate the solid work of Edward Zwick.

Here are some of my reviews of other movies by Edward Zwick

Glory

Last Samurai

Defiance

Lions for Lambs (2007)

I watched a lot of war movies before I started this blog. Unfortunately I cannot review them anymore after a while that’s why I have to re-watch a lot of them, also some that I didn’t really like the first time. Lions for Lambs is one of them. I can’t really say I didn’t like it. I watched it and forgot it the moment I turned off the TV.

I’m reading an interesting book at the moment. It hasn’t been translated but I add the full title for my German readers. The book is called “Antikriegsfilm – Zur Ästhetik, Geschichte und Theorie einer filmhistorischen Praxis” and it’s as dry as the title makes it sound. It’s an academic analysis of anti-war movies and I will write more about it soon. In any case, Lions for Lambs is mentioned as one of the typical modern – meaning post 9/11 – anti-war movies. The movie isn’t analysed as the book focusses on combat movies but it’s mentioned and since I had the DVD I watched it again.

I found it more interesting this time but still consider it to be a failed movie. It has an idea but no real story and in order to cover that up, Redford (he is the director as well) chose to tell three parallel stories. Obviously none of them on its own would have made a whole movie and together it’s a patchwork circling around the same theme: Is it justified to go to war in order to maintain peace?

The movie moves back and forth between three different stories. One focusses on cocky senator Jasper Irving (Tom Cruise) who wants to convince journalist Janine Roth (Meryl Streep) that it makes sense to send troops to Afghanistan and that this time they will win the war. He says that he has certain information that there is an entry route from Iraq, crossing Iran, into Afghanistan. Roth is a very clever journalist and has soon found out that what he wants her to write is pure propaganda. She thinks she should write an entirely different piece instead.

While these two are discussing, a Harvard professor of political science (Robert Redford) tries to motivate his most promising student. He tells him about two other students he had, two people from underprivileged families, who finally signed up to assure their university fees will get paid. Lack of money and misguided idealism made them take a hasty decision.

While they all discuss, the two former students have just been shot down over Afghanistan. They were part of the troops sent by senator Irving. They hit the ground alive but are soon surrounded by enemy troops and spend the rest of the movie not making a difference but fighting for their lives.

All the people in the three stories are trying to make up their minds about extremely important questions and decisions. The story that worked best for me and which I really enjoyed is the one between Tom Cruise’s and Meryl Streep’s character. They are such excellent actors, it’s a joy to watch them.

The biggest problem of Lions for Lambs is that its intentions are far better than its execution. Still, if you want to see a movie that shows the different arguments, pro and contra military intervention, and if you don’t mind that it is very wordy, you might like it.

10 War Mini-Series You Must See

When I wrote my post on ANZACS the other day I realized that there are quite a few great war mini-series out there. There are certainly more than 10 but out of all those I’ve seen or heard of, I would say, the 10 that I mention below are the ten you should really not miss. They all cover different wars or different aspects of the same wars. Many of them are better than most movies. My favourites are Band of Brothers, Hornblower, Sharpe and Generation Kill.

Wings (1976) WWI Air Combat. I must admit, I haven’t seen this yet but it has a great reputation among air combat fans and should be a nice companion to the WWII based series Piece of Cake.

Danger UXB (1979) WWII – Bomb disposal unit. I liked this series when I watched it quite a bit. It gives you a good feel for what a bomb disposal unit had to go through during the Blitz. All the different types of bombs. The characters are appealing and we get a good impression of civilian life during the Blitz as well. Here is my review.

Das Boot 1985 – WWII submarine. Das Boot exists in two versions. One is the cinema the other the TV version which was twice as long. I have seen the cinema version which is one of the best war movies there is. Some people prefer the longer TV version. It’s worth checking out.

ANZACS (1985) WWI. Infantry combat. I just reviewed the final episodes of this excellent mini-series that follows the ANZACS from Australia to Gallipoli and from there to the Somme and back home again. Great combat scenes and a nice “band of brothers” feel. It also contrasts British command and Australian insubordination in a funny way. Here is my review.

Piece of Cake (1988) WWII Air Combat. The series follows the men of the Hornet Squadron during the early weeks of WWII. It shows how inexperienced boys become excellent fighter pilots.

Sharpe (1993 – 2008) – Napoleonic wars. Infantry and cavalry. Based on the novels by Bernard Cornwell this is a very elaborate and suspenseful series. In its center is the character Sharpe an enlisted man who is such an excellent soldier that he is soon raised to the rank of officer. This is problematic as he isn’t an aristocrat. He faces injustice and adversity. Sean Bean stars as Sharpe. It’s one of the best roles of his career. Here is my post.

Hornblower (1998 -2003) – Napoleonic wars. Naval combat. This is another extraordinary tale of one man’s ascent. Ioan Gruffud stars as Horatio Hornblower which might explain why I hear this series mentioned quite often by women.  If you like Master & Commander, you will love this. It’s like a very long version with an appealing central character. It is based on the books by C.S. Forester. Here is my post.

Band of Brothers (2001) WWII. Infantry combat. This is one of the most amazing series. Based on the book Band of Brothers it follows the paratroopers of Easy Company from 1941 – 1945, starting in the US until the freeing of the KZ’s. The characters of this tight-knit company are very well depicted and you really care for all of them. Seeing them die or get wounded is harrowing. Some of the episodes, like the one called Bastonge, are so intense, they still overshadow most other WWWII infantry combat scenes I’ve seen before or after.

Generation Kill (2008) Iraq. Special unit. This is a series that is hard to get into, especially when you are used to others. It has a very slow build-up but after two episodes I really appreciated it. It achieves a very authentic depiction of modern warfare and shows how problematic it is to send a generation used to war games into combat. It shows how much is absolutely boring, just standing around and waiting. At the center of the unit is the “Iceman” Sgt Brad Colbert played by Alexander Skrasgard. The Iceman is an amazing character and even more so because he is based on a real person. This guy really always keeps his cool. The series is based on the account of an embedded journalist. Here’s the link to the book. And here is my post on The Iceman.

The Pacific (2010) – WWII. Infantry combat. If you do not compare this series to Band of Brothers, you will like it. It’s less the story a group of people than individual stories. The soldiers are also shown during their leaves and some love stories are incorporated. However the combat scenes are even grittier that those in Band of Brothers. Not pretty at all. My favourite episode is Rain on Cape Gloucester. Here is my Pacific short review.

Ken Loach’s Route Irish (2010)

I’ve read a few reviews of Route Irish and while I agree this may not be Ken Loach‘s best movie, I thought it was far better than I expected. There are a few awkward moments but overall it’s well done, well acted, interesting and suspenseful.

Fergus and Frankie are best friends since childhood days. They are inseparable. They join the army together and leave it together. While Fergus starts working as a contractor for Tyree (an organisation like Blackwater), Frankie does the odd job in their hometown Liverpool. The problem is that odd jobs don’t bring money and he is not with Fergus. That’s why he joins up with Tyree as well and they go to different “hot places” together. 10000 £ per month seem enough money to justify what they are doing and to accept the risks they are taking.

Organisations like Blackwater are the face of modern warfare. Although the men are called “security personnel” by their employers, what they really are is mercenaries. Iraq is a particularly ugly place to be. It’s messy and chaotic. They are constantly shot at and shoot back.

While Fergus is in Liverpool, Frankie is on his last mission, escorting a reporter.  He is killed on Route Irish, the most dangerous street in the world, the road that leads from Baghdad to the Green Zone.

Fergus is guilt ridden because he wasn’t there for his friend. Just before his death, Frankie tried to call Fergus several times as clearly something was wrong in Baghdad. A mobile phone that Frankie has sent to Fergus shows that he was involved in the shooting of civilians and that one of the other mercenaries wanted to cover this up. Fergus is convinced that Frankie wasn’t just in the wrong place at the wrong time but that he was murdered. He swears to track down the killers and take revenge.

Ken Loach could have chosen different ways of showing us the corruption and lawlessness of modern-day warfare and organisations like Blackwater but I thought a thriller wasn’t a bad choice. I liked Route Irish and think it is worth seeing. Not only for fans of Ken Loach.

Green Zone (2010)

Wouldn’t it be merciful to be among those who regularly fall asleep when watching a movie? I would have been so lucky if it had happened while watching this.

Green Zone is a hybrid movie that want’s to be war and action drama and most of all aims at a political statement. That’s just like decaffeinated coffee. If you can’t handle the real deal, just stick with something else. Some of my readers know that I do occasionally have strong reactions when I don’t like an actor. This isn’t case here. While not Matt Damon‘s most ardent fan, I enjoyed the Bourne movies. But that isn’t what you will get here.

The major problem is that the topic is really old news. By the time this movie was made everyone knew that there hadn’t been any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. To sell a story like that as if it was really a discovery can only work on people who have spent the last 10 years in a TV free dungeon.

Now, what is the story? Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller (Matt Damon) is in charge of a group of soldiers who are to discover the mass destruction weapons in Iraq. Every time they arrive at one of the places indicated on their maps that they got from intelligence, they find nothing. Miller starts to suspect that the information is wrong. He tries to talk to people in charge but they don’t want to listen. He talks to experts and a journalist and all pretend, that the intelligence is solid.

Frustrated and disgusted he tries to solve the riddle on his own. What follows is an initially action-packed hunt. What is important in my last statement is the bit about the “initially action-packed”. The action – and that is deadly for an action movie – slows down considerably during the last third. On top of that it gets confusing and, as said, the main topic isn’t gripping.

It’s an OK movie if you have nothing else to watch and are a huge Matt Damon fan anyway. I’d rate it 2/5.