Army bomb expert sues ‘Hurt Locker’ makers, claiming main character was based on him

By Mike Householder, AP
Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Army bomb expert claims ‘Hurt Locker’ based on him

SOUTHFIELD, Mich. — 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 Wednesday that he filed the lawsuit in New Jersey federal court on behalf of Master Sgt. Jeffrey Sarver. He declined to specify how much money his client was seeking.

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 said 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 told reporters at his office in Southfield. “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.”

Sarver, who attended the Wednesday news conference, said he could have helped out with the film but its makers never offered him the chance.

“(I’m feeling) just a little bit hurt, a little bit felt left out,” Sarver said. “Just hoping that Mr. Fieger can make things right.”

The movie’s U.S. distributor, Summit Entertainment, issued a statement saying it hopes “for a quick resolution to the claims made by Master Sgt. Sarver.”

“The film is a story about heroes depicting a fictional account of what brave men and women do on the battlefield,” the company said. “We have no doubt that Master Sgt. Sarver served his country with honor and commitment risking his life for a greater good, but we distributed the film based on a fictional screenplay written by Mark Boal.”

Boal disputed that James was based entirely on Sarver, and said the film was a work of fiction.

“Jeff is a brave soldier and a good guy. Like a lot of soldiers, he identifies with the film, but the character I wrote is fictional,” Boal said in a statement. “The film is a work of fiction inspired by many people’s stories, not the life story of any one person.”

It could be tough for Sarver to win his lawsuit unless he can prove that Boal made promises to him while he was embedded with his unit, said Jody Simon, an entertainment lawyer in Los Angeles.

“Soldiers don’t have privacy,” Simon said. “The military embedded him so they gave the reporter permission to observe what was going on. … Works of fiction always have elements of fact.”

Fieger said he timed the lawsuit so it wouldn’t interfere with voting for the Academy Awards, which concluded Tuesday.

The lawsuit names several defendants, including Boal and the film’s director, Kathryn Bigelow, who Fieger claims consulted with Boal while he was embedded.

The news release Fieger’s office sent to news organizations described the case as a multimillion-dollar lawsuit, but Fieger during the news conference wouldn’t discuss the amount he was seeking.

It’s been a rough start to the week for “The Hurt Locker.” The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences earlier penalized one of the film’s producers because of e-mails he sent urging academy members to vote for his movie.

Associated Press writers David N. Goodman and Ed White in Detroit contributed to this report.

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