In Contention


Mark Boal’s ‘The Man in the Bomb Suit’

Posted by Kristopher Tapley · 11:33 am · March 3rd, 2010

The Man in the Bomb Suit by Mark BoalIn this morning’s round-up we mentioned the forthcoming lawsuit against Mark Boal and “The Hurt Locker” that claims the film’s central character, Staff Sergeant William James, is in fact the embodiment of a real soldier named Jeffrey Sarver.  Boal followed Sarver and his team around in the summer of 2004 to observe this new facet of modern warfare, and the result was a Playboy piece titled “The Man in the Bomb Suit,” which ran in the September 2005 issue.

The takedown of this film is quite hilarious.  First it’s not an accurate depiction of what happened in those trenches.  Now it’s so close to reality that a craven soldier wants his cut.  Only in an Oscar season.

Anyway, I never actually read Boal’s piece, so I thought I’d do some digging in the Playboy archives to turn it up.  The publication actually republished it online recently (smart move) and as I dug in this morning, I was transported.  As a guy who fancied a career as a magazine journalist once upon a time, I relished in the world Boal painted.  He’s a solid journalist who knows how to put you right smack dab in the middle of the environment he’s describing.

Here’s a bit of his nut graph and a portion that certainly recalls the particulars of the film:

At last they arrive at an intersection where everything is still. Here the city has stopped dead, pressing itself against roadblocks set up by a Ranger team, and traffic is backing up on both sides of the busy crossroads. This is what the war in Iraq looks like on most days: a traffic jam and a roadside bomb. The war has stopped to wait for Sarver and his fellow techs, the 100-to 150-man counterforce in this theater, who are specifically trained to handle the homemade bombs that now account for more than half of American hostile deaths…

Sarver, 33, in wraparound shooting shades that make his baby face look even younger, takes a second to consider the possibilities: Is it real or a decoy to lure him into the kill zone of a second bomb? Is it a hoax designed only to pull him into the shooting range of a sniper? Is it wired to a mine or daisy-chained to a series of IEDs? Is it wired at all or remote-controlled? Is it on a mechanical timer ticking down? Wired in a collapsible circuit that will trigger the explosion when he cuts it? He runs back to his truck, a few inches of bellyfat moving under his uniform. He keeps his time on the ground to a minimum because it is impossible to tell whether that Iraqi in the dark suit with the cell phone is calling his wife or transmitting Sarver’s position to a sniper team. This is a job so dangerous that bomb techs in Iraq are five times more likely to die than all other soldiers in the theater.

Check out the rest over at Playboy.




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→ 23 Comments Tags: , , , | Filed in: Daily

23 responses so far

  • 1 3-03-2010 at 11:47 am

    Robert Hamer said...

    I don’t think I’m going to read anything today that will put a bigger smile on my face than that second paragraph.

  • 2 3-03-2010 at 11:59 am

    BurmaShave said...

    My one confusion is if this is an extrapolation of a magazine article, how is it an Original Screenplay…

  • 3 3-03-2010 at 12:01 pm

    Nigel Bridgeman said...

    I haven’t read the article (about to go to work) but I was wondering the same thing as Burma. Hmm.

  • 4 3-03-2010 at 12:01 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Good point. My assumption is the old “inspired by” get out of jail free card. The script depicts a lot of the general events that are laid out in the story, but it tells its own narrative.

    But who knows? It always seems arbitrary at best when it comes to the WGA’s rulings on these things.

  • 5 3-03-2010 at 1:21 pm

    Conor said...

    I too found the second paragraph really funny, but in all seriousness, there’s a big difference between the criticism the film has faced from soldiers/veterans, and some nut that wants his 15 minutes of fame.

  • 6 3-03-2010 at 1:26 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Not really.

  • 7 3-03-2010 at 1:35 pm

    Conor said...

    Well, soldiers in particular have found a lot of discrepancies in the movie, citing it as unrealistic. And “realistic” seems like everything the movie was about. The criticism actually has to do with the movie, the crazy guy doesn’t. There are hundreds of soldiers who say this for every one person that wants to sue… Not that I noticed anything, but one soldier posted on IMDB: “If you’re in the military and/or have been to Iraq, this movie sucks. If you are not and/or have not, I guess it’s okay.”

  • 8 3-03-2010 at 2:07 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    A few soldiers that the LA Times rounded up took umbrage with things like “We didn’t wear those uniforms in 2004″ and “That’s not how you diffuse an IED.” This is called “creative license,” and it doesn’t take away from the overall authenticity of the piece.

    But I’m glad you have sources at IMDb to back up your claim. I’m from the south. I know my fair share of soldiers. And I can come right back with plenty who felt the film nailed the psyche of a soldier in a seemingly pointless war.

  • 9 3-03-2010 at 2:21 pm

    Conor said...

    All I’m aware of is that I’ve read articles from Newsweek, USA Today, Time, and basically said that soldiers didn’t like it nearly as much as critics did. Perhaps the articles all gave a misrepresentation of soldiers’ opinions on the film, which wouldn’t surprise me. And I too highly doubt that most would care about what uniforms were worn in certain years. Still, I think that the guy that’s suing is not completely representative of all soldiers’ views.

  • 10 3-03-2010 at 3:10 pm

    Speaking English said...

    It’s not minor things like the suits they were wearing, it’s the very fact that a guy like Jeremy Renner’s character, someone so reckless and who so consistently risks the lives of his team, would not be allowed one hour out there. And the fact that he leaves campus and goes on his little “rogue mission” pretty much unscathed. Would never happen. It’s the entire nature of the movie’s lead character, not some small little innocuous details. That’s why people are complaining.

    And I really didn’t want to bring this up again, but people don’t seem to understand it.

    I am done.

  • 11 3-03-2010 at 5:30 pm

    BurmaShave said...

    Isn’t all this bullshit “There was never any Russian Roulette in Vietnamese prison camps!!!” all over again… This is a film about war, not just a film about ‘this’ war.

  • 12 3-03-2010 at 5:59 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    English: Did you also shit your pants when Dafoe was killed in Platoon? Come on. Understand thematic devices when you see them.

  • 13 3-03-2010 at 6:03 pm

    Michael O. said...

    There’s definitely some similarities between what Boal wrote about Sarver and William James (the colonel asking to shake James’ hand is almost word-for-word), but the story is definitely original.

    And The Hurt Locker may not be realistic, but it’s a damn fine film. I’ll take that over realism any day.

  • 14 3-03-2010 at 6:05 pm

    Glenn said...

    I haven’t read it – busy – but if Jane Campion’s “Bright Star” was somehow adapted then how was “The Hurt Locker” original. There was another movie based on a Playboy article last year, wasn’t there? I seem to remember there being one.

    But, then again, the Academy are bonkers with their classifications. Lest we forget 2002 when somehow movies based on stage shows and books were classified as “original” (“My Big Fat Greek Wedding” and “Gangs of New York” respectively).

  • 15 3-03-2010 at 6:26 pm

    Chase K. said...

    Oscar season has become such a viscous gauntlet – it’s come to the point now where I don’t even want a film that I like to gain the recognition, it only makes the bulls-eye on its back that much bigger.

    “The Hurt Locker” was a different film when I saw it back in June and that’s an F-ing shame.

  • 16 3-03-2010 at 6:33 pm

    aspect ratio said...

    That this guy proclaims to have coined the phrase “hurt locker” is reason enough for an easy dismissal of pretty much anything he says.

  • 17 3-03-2010 at 7:31 pm

    Michael O. said...

    My coach in high school said Hurt Locker… so, yeah, it’s a safe bet he’s fighting a losing battle.

  • 18 3-04-2010 at 5:15 am

    Morgan said...

    The whole Avatar vs. Hurt Locker manufactured narrative is getting tiresome. First, Avatar was relentlessly puffed up by critics and Oscar-watchers far beyond its actual quality and significance. Then, people decided to hold up The Hurt Locker as the best movie of the year and now there are all these manufactured cries of “conspiracy!” and it’s really all because Oscar bloggers need drama to write about.

    Isn’t it really just Cameron vs. Bigelow that’s attracting all the attention? Nothing more than that.

  • 19 3-04-2010 at 10:31 am

    Ivan said...

    I agree Morgan, all this gossip is because we´re talking about a film with 9 Oscar nominations & other 68 wins…

    Bud Fox: Why do you need to wreck this company?

    Gordon Gekko: Because it’s WRECKABLE, all right? I took another look at it and I changed my mind!

  • 20 3-04-2010 at 5:41 pm

    Me. said...

    And so begins the backlash for the Oscar frontrunner…

  • 21 3-04-2010 at 7:20 pm

    PaytheGuy said...

    It is more than obvious the film is based on Sarver, especially after reading the Playboy article. The entire film is basically a character study. Boal is a rookie. This is his first script for ***sakes. He should have gotten the rights. Rookie move.

    Anywho, I don’t get the hype? I didn’t think the movie was all the great to be honest. I would put it on par with Jarhead and 3 Kings.

    Am I supposed to be all excited because she hasn’t made a good movie since Point Break and used to be married to Cameron?

  • 22 3-10-2011 at 10:00 am

    Jeff Sarver said...

    Ugh I actually never claimed to make up the term “Hurt Locker”. Boal was embedded with me and only me with new facts pointing out that he lied about being with other EOD teams. I have proof. I was merely saying it in fron oof him for the entire time. He even asked me while filming me what it meant. I told him it was a place you went when you f*cked up or a place of pain. If I had went around saying “clown car” I am sure it could have became “the clown Car”. Holloywood is caught in a lie and now they are hiding in California screaming that the were using the thier 1st Amendment. The truth will come out. We have LOTS of evidence and proof that he lied. For one thing, was he ever an accredited embed? Nope.