Is Land of Bad a True Story? Are JJ Kinney and Eddie “Reaper” Grimm Based on Real Air Force Pilots?

William Eubank’s military thriller film, ‘Land of Bad,’ is an action fest following a rescue operation gone wrong. Air Force Sergeant JJ “Playboy” Kinney, a drone JTAC officer, joins the special ops team that travels into the thick of the southern Philippines woods to retract an intelligence asset from hostile territory. However, their mission against the Russians tilts on its axis after another enemy party ambushes them, leading the mission to turn into a fight for survival. Consequently, with his team, Sugar, Bishop, and Abell, in trouble, it’s up to Kinney and his air support captain, Eddie “Reaper” Grimm, to prevent the mission from ending in tragedy.

The film diligently focuses on the military aspect of Kinney and his comrades’ stories, depicting the horrors of intense operations where soldiers put their lives on the line for their missions. Therefore, given the tale’s honest exploration of drone warfare tactics and the brutalities of perilous service, ‘Land of Bad’ must have left people wondering about the plot and its characters’ basis in reality.

Land of Bad: A Fictional Tale Crafted With Authenticity

‘Land of Bad’ is not based on a true story. However, creator Eubank, who directed the film and co-wrote the script alongside screenwriter David Frigerio, was extremely intentional about maintaining a sense of realism within the story. From the start, the filmmaker was sure about his intention to create an action-packed flick. As such, since the script’s inception— some ten to fifteen years prior to the film’s completion— Eubank wanted to focus on the dynamics within drone warfare.

The idea that an individual sitting in Las Vegas could be helping out a soldier who’s in the trenches across the globe presented an intriguing and fascinating situation to Eubank. “[And] We just thought that’s such a cool dynamic— like a two-hander where the two people aren’t really together,” he said in an interview with CBR. Furthermore, Eubank and his team remained dedicated to authenticity within their portrayal of the same, leading to extensive real-life research.

“We watched real bombs being dropped,” said Eubank while discussing his experience in the film’s making. “I mean, the Air Force was really kind to let us sort of peer over the shoulder and into the world of what an actual JTAC and what these drone operators really do.” Thus, ‘Land of Bad’ found its uniquely authentic perspective, presenting a conventional army tale while still offering a distinctive narrative to fans of the genre.

At its center, the film helms a story about the brotherhood and camaraderie that motivates each character to carry out selflessly dangerous rescue missions. While the same remains an intrinsic part of such movies, the genre convention’s roots, in reality, affirm the realistic truth behind it. Therefore, the theme’s equipment in this film does much the same job, enhancing the film’s authenticity by infusing moments of realism within action-packed sequences.

In fact, Eubank went the extra mile in retaining this authenticity within his story by working with real drone operators and JTACs (Joint Terminal Attack Controllers) and immersing himself and his creative team in the military men’s experiences at Fort Irwin. “[Through the experience] You saw that these guys are so dedicated to their work and each other that it really isn’t so much this individual psychological turmoil thing,” the filmmaker shared. “You realize the people who end up in those positions and are doing that kind of work are just dedicated to their craft and to each other. And you’re like, ah, that’s the story. That’s what I really want to make this about.”

The Real-Life Consultants Behind Kinney and Reaper

Despite the realistic research that went into crafting the world within ‘Land of Bad,’ the story that unfolds within the film remains a work of fiction. For the same reason, the characters in the story lack real-life counterparts that underwent the exact situations as the on-screen characters. Nevertheless, Eubank’s determination to ensure authenticity within the film extended to its characters.

Consequently, both Liam Hemsworth’s JJ Kinney and Russell Crowe’s Eddie “Reaper” Grimm end up having some loose basis in real-life people. In Kinney’s case, the character seems to be lifted from the real Air Force JTAC instructor who was in discussion with Eubank and Frigerio since they started working on the film. The instructor, named Jason Kinney, also advised the actors embodying JTAC roles, including Hemsworth’s character.

As such, the screenwriting duo decided to name the latter’s character after Kinney since the man taught them everything about the world they were building. Therefore, although on-screen Kinney’s adventures aren’t based on real-life Kinney’s lived experiences, the former’s authenticity remains informed by the latter.

Likewise, the filmmaking team employed the help of a real-life drone operator, Michael Spierings, to advise Crowe on his performance, especially the technical aspect of it. As a result, both Hemsworth and Crowe’s characters find a connection to reality, even if their narrative remains fictional.

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