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Despite the amateur photography, THE WAR TAPES is well made, but somewhat monotonous. A solid documentary, it is clear, clinical and does not try to take sides, some broadsides at Halliburton and common left-wing misrepresentations notwithstanding. Most of the violence takes place off camera, but several real human remains are shown, including hard-to-recognize body parts. The overall experience occasionally feels too voyeuristic for comfort. Thankfully, the scenes of the families succeed in making a very much needed emotional connection. There are a large number of obscenities and vulgar talk, so exercise extreme caution.
(BB, P, PC, Pa, FR, LLL, VVV, S, A, D, M) Overall moral worldview about the Iraq War that's relatively objective, lets most sides speak their peace and is shot from the perspective of three soldiers, plus separate interviews with their families back home, with some pro-American content, some politically correct broadsides and one family is Muslim; at least 60 obscenities, a couple profanities and some sex talk; some very strong violence includes real dead and mutilated human bodies are shown on camera, explosions and implied killing through shootings in acts of war, scenes showing explosions; allusions to sexual acts discussed but no actual sex takes place on screen; no nudity; alcohol use; smoking; and, some miscellaneous immorality.
Rather than risk her life, when invited by the Public Affairs Officer of the New Hampshire National Guard to shoot a documentary about the Iraq war, Director Deborah Scranton came up with the novel idea of handing out digital video cameras to 10 U.S. servicemen headed to the theater of operations. The results were better than expected, for one thing a best documentary award at the Tribeca Film Festival, and for another, a generally impartial view of the war by those closest to it.
At the outset, the audience is introduced to Sergeants Steve Pink, Zack Baazi and Mike Moriarty as they get ready to ship out to the Middle East. From that point, the audience follows them around throughout their deployment, becoming a virtual embedded observer of their day-to-day activities. There are occasionally very funny, quips from various service men. Each soldier looks at the situation from his particular cultural, educational and political point of view. They soldiers give their opinions on why they are there, the political correctness, as well as incredible lack of common sense exhibited by higher brass and politicians, and how they could do it better if it was up to them. While one of them thinks the reason for being there in the first place is oil and money, another thinks it better be oil and money, because at least that would make it all worth it. Yet another believes that for whatever the reason, once the decision was made to go to Iraq all the critics should either support it, or just “shut up”.
As the movie progresses, the audience is led through the streets of dangerous Fallujah. The movie eventually winds up in the middle of firefight where the enemy is never seen until their bodies are found on the ground. Strangely enough, not fighting the enemy face to face is a source of frustration for many of the soldiers, and a clear indication of the modern new type of war this is. From scene to scene, viewers are constantly reminded of the ever-present danger by the loud boom of explosions and billowing black plumes of thick smoke in the nearby distance. As one of those IEDs (improvised explosive devices) goes off, viewers can hear an unidentified soldier’s voice in the background stating matter of fact that someone new has just “gone to heaven”
Meanwhile, the three sergeants’ families are back at home suffering their own anxieties in silence. They live constantly glued to the news, and their nerves are raw from getting the latest casualty reports. Sgt. Zack Bazzi mom’s predicament is particularly poignant. The Bazzis are a family of Lebanese Muslims who left Beirut to get away from all the violence there. Now, Mrs Bazzi’s only son gets shipped to Iraq, bringing her right back to the subject of her worst nightmares.
The one-year tour of duty thankfully, and to the audience’s relief, finally comes to an end, and our main characters have survived it. Even though these soldiers are physically unharmed, it does not mean some type of damage has not occurred in their lives as the period of adjustment back to civilian life begins, and it proves to be almost more difficult than fighting the war itself.
THE WAR TAPES is a vast improvement on the same theme over last year’s JARHEAD. A documentary’s documentary, it is clear, clinical, and does not try to take sides, some broadsides at Halliburton and common left-wing misrepresentations notwithstanding. Regrettably, it also struggles to keep up the interest level as the presentation becomes rather tedious at times, and the overall experience occasionally feels too voyeuristic for comfort. Thankfully, the scenes of the families and events at home succeed in making a very much needed emotional connection. Through Mike Moriarty’s wife, Steve Pink’s girlfriend, and Zack Bazzi’s mother in particular, viewers will be able to understand the true human and even fragile dimension behind the fighting men and women in Iraq. These soldiers find themselves clashing with a drastically different and ruthless enemy in the pursuit of a policy which is not that clear to many of them. In that context, it is understandable how in the middle of all the savagery which includes daily roadside bombings and deadly ambushes on both civilians and military alike, an American soldier can still be totally devastated when he accidentally runs over and kills an Iraqi woman with his Humvee.
Finally, THE WAR TAPES brings a sobering awareness to the audience on the lingering psychological after-effects of the war on returning service men. Whatever one’s particular position on the war may be, the movie makes it fairly easy to deduce that anything less than full support for these brave men and women, who did not make the policies, is not only psychologically harmful to them, but all the lives that they will touch long after the war is over.
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