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Tuesday, June 11, 2024 | Back issues
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‘Hurt Locker’ Defamed Him, Real|Army Sergeant Bomb-Defuser Says

NEWARK, N.J. (CN) - An Army veteran says the lead character in the Oscar-nominated film "The Hurt Locker" is based on his life defusing bombs in Iraq. He claims the movie misappropriated his likeness, invaded his privacy and defamed him by portraying him as "trailer trash," with a "proclivity for fathering children out of wedlock," and "a reckless, gung-ho war addict who has a morbid fascination with death which causes him to carelessly risk both his and his colleagues' lives".

Master Sgt. Jeffrey Sarver says he led an explosive ordinance disposal unit in Iraq, and that Mark Boal, an embedded journalist, used him as the basis for an article in "Playboy" and the screenplay for "The Hurt Locker."

Sarver, who claims he coined the "hurt locker" term, says Boal spent 30 days with his unit. Explosive ordinance disposal techs are five times more likely to die than other soldiers, and Sarver's unit "disarmed more IEDs than any single team since the operations began in Iraq," according to the complaint.

Sarver says that Boal claimed he was writing a "general" article about Army bomb units.

But Sgt. Sarver says, "'The Hurt Locker' motion picture film and DVD are nothing more than the exploitation of a real life honorable, courageous, and long-serving member of our country's armed forces, by greedy multibillion-dollar 'entertainment' corporations, which engaged in the very simple - though unconscionable and unlawful - act of plagiarizing the name, likeness, mannerisms, habits, and intimate and personal life story of plaintiff Staff Sgt. Jeffrey S. Sarver, for the sole commercial purpose of unjustly enriching the defendants in multiple millions of dollars."

Kathryn Bigelow, nominated for an Oscar for Best Director for her work on "The Hurt Locker," allegedly told Boal to "use his media embedment as a vehicle to come up with a 'screenplay' for a commercial movie."

"The Hurt Locker" has been nominated for nine Oscars at the 82nd Annual Academy Awards this Sunday. It is a favorite for Best Picture, having taken top honors at other awards shows against the much-hyped "Avatar."

"Any casual reader of the Playboy article will easily identify the movie's main character Will James and the movie itself are about the Plaintiff Sgt. Jeffrey Sarver personally, both with respect to his actions while in Iraq, as well as his actions at home and with his family," according to the complaint.

In the 11-page Playboy article, Boal described many personal details about Sarver's life, while portraying "him in a false light in several sections," according to the complaint.

Sarver claims the article's title left no doubt about his identity. The front page of the story stated: "For Staff Sergeant Jeffrey Sarver ... the war in Iraq couldn't get any more personal. What it's like to be THE MAN IN THE BOMB SUIT."

In the article, Boal described Sarver's age, height, background growing up in a West Virginia trailer park, and his accent, according to the complaint.

Sarver says the character Will James, played by (nonparty) Jeremy Renner in "The Hurt Locker," is described as "trailer trash" and has the same physical characteristics as Sarver.

"Renner impersonated Sgt. Sarver's persona down to the smallest detail, including the replication of Sgt. Sarver's West Virginia accent, dialect, expressions, mannerisms, personality, and even dress habits (i.e. rolling his sleeves in the exact same manner as Sarver)," according to the complaint.

Sarver, who was awarded a Bronze Star, says the Playboy article includes unflattering details attributed to him, such as a history of bar fights, a "proclivity for fathering children out of wedlock," a collection of bomb remnants in a box under his bed and a "fascination with bombs and deadly explosives."

Boal insinuated in the article that Sarver was a successful bomb tech because of "his reckless and flawed character (addicted to war and violence; willing to risk his or anyone else's life simply for 'the morbid thrill' or adrenaline rush; being a reckless 'wild-man' or 'cowboy'; having a twisted fascination and obsession for death and deadly explosive devices; loving war and violence more than his family)," according to the complaint.

"Though the movie clings to the plaintiff's likeness and personal circumstances throughout the movie, plaintiff is also defamed in placed in a false light in several scenes, such as (1) the scene where plaintiff explains to his young son that he essentially does not love him, and that the only thing plaintiff loves now is 'war,'" according to the complaint.

"The movie ends by showing plaintiff back in Iraq, starting another deployment mission; and (2) the portrayal of plaintiff as a reckless, gung-ho war addict who has a morbid fascination with death which causes him to carelessly risk both his and his colleagues' lives in the theater of war, simply to feel the thrill of cheating death."

Sarver seeks damages for defamation, misappropriation of name and likeness, fraud and invasion of privacy.

The defendants are Boal, Bigelow, The Hurt Locker LLC, Greg Shapiro, Nicolas Chartier, Tony Mark, Donall McCusker, Summit Entertainment, Voltage Pictures, Grosvenor Park Media, First Light Productions, Kingsgate Films and Playboy Enterprises.

Sarver is represented by Linda George of Hackensack, N.J.

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