‘Locker’ in a world of hurt

Master Sgt. Jeffrey S. Sarver, a U.S. Army bomb expert, speaks ...

Reuters photo

Vietraq War veteran Master Sgt. Jeffrey S. Sarver, pictured above at a news conference today, says that the main character of the film “The Hurt Locker” was based upon him — and that he even coined the term “hurt locker.” He is suing the film’s makers for having profited from him.

It’s too bad that the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences already have cast their ballots for best picture, which is to be announced on Sunday — because if they voted for “The Hurt Locker” then, they probably wouldn’t do so now.

First, the academy banned one of “The Hurt Locker’s” producers from attending the Oscars for having overzealously lobbied academy members to vote for his film.

Now, real-life Master Sgt. Jeffrey Sarver filed a lawsuit against the makers of the film, stating that the film’s main character is based on him. Reports The Associated Press:

An Army bomb disposal expert who served in the Iraq war is suing the makers of “The Hurt Locker,” claiming the Oscar-nominated film’s lead character is based on him and that they cheated him out of “financial participation” in the film.

Attorney Geoffrey Fieger said at a news conference at his … office [today] that he filed the multimillion-dollar lawsuit in New Jersey federal court on behalf of Master Sgt. Jeffrey Sarver.

Sarver, of Clarksville, Tenn., claims screenwriter Mark Boal was embedded in his three-person unit and that the information he gathered was used in the film, Fieger said. The film is nominated for nine Academy Awards, including best original screenplay.

Sarver says Will James, the film’s main character (portrayed by Oscar nominee Jeremy Renner), is based on him and that James’ call signal, “Blaster One,” was uniquely his during his tours of duty, Fieger said. Sarver also says he coined the phrase “The Hurt Locker.”

Fieger says Boal’s embedded reporting — over 30 days in 2004 — led to an article the following year in Playboy magazine about Sarver, and that the story later was adapted by Boal for “The Hurt Locker” screenplay.

“If you do take the time to read (the Playboy article) and if you then go and view ‘The Hurt Locker,’ you will see — and there will be no question in your mind — that ‘Blaster One,’ Sgt. Sarver, is the character in ‘The Hurt Locker’ called Will James,” Fieger said. “The caveat in the movie that the movie is fictional and all the characters portrayed in the movie are fictional is a fictional statement in and of itself.” …

Yikes. That the screenwriter spent time “embedded” with Sarver in Iraq and then wrote the screenplay, and that the screenwriter even adopted specific, rather unique details about Sarver, such as his call signal and his coining of the term “hurt locker” — if this is true — seems legally damning, although I’m not a lawyer. 

You’re allowed to report what you witness, but then to turn what you witness into “fiction” and to profit personally from that “fiction” — that seems rather legally sticky to me.

If “The Hurt Locker” wins best picture, it will be a forever-tarnished best-picture win. (I don’t think that there is any remedy for any buyer’s remorse that the academy might have. I’m not sure whether any Oscar ever has been revoked. [I could look it up, but, truth be told, I don’t want to know that badly enough to look it up…])

My guess is that “The Hurt Locker” will win best picture if the members of the academy decided to go with the underdog. If not “The Hurt Locker,” I think that the best-picture Oscar will go to the sci-fi epic “Avatar.”

“Avatar” has its flaws, such as the fact that it is derivative of so many other movies, perhaps especially the “Pocahontas” storyline, but I can see the academy giving the best-picture Oscar to “Avatar” not so much for the film’s achievements alone but also to reward James Cameron for his life’s work, even though his “Titanic” won best picture in 1997.

Had “The Hurt Locker” lawsuit come to light before the members of the academy voted for this year’s best picture, the Na’vi would be cheering right about now…

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