Tuesday, January 20, 2009
IN THE HEAT OF BATTLE
BATTLE FOR HADITHA (***1/2) should be shown to all new Marine recruits. This is a troubling, extremely visceral piece of filmmaking from British documentarian Nick Broomfield (BIGGIE & TUPAC, KURT & COURTNEY) who made his feature film debut with this excellent but tough-to-watch combat film. More than any of the recent Iraq war movies to come out of Hollywood, BATTLE FOR HADITHA really makes you feel like you're in the middle of the shit, just as HBO's amazing miniseries GENERATION KILL did. The film follows a group of Marines and highlights their attack and slaughter of 24 Iraqi civilians after one of their men was killed by a road-side IED in Haditha. Broomfield gives equal coverage to all of the people involved: the trigger-happy and emotionally distraught soldiers, the Al-qaueda insurgents who planted the bomb, and the innocent bystanders living in a nearby apartment complex who faced the wraith of the vengeful Marines. More than anything else, BATTLE FOR HADITHA urgently reminds the viewer that what goes on in war is angry, deadly, and extremely unpredictable. The fact that the Marines killed a large number of innocent people (including women and children) out of sheer, blind rage is extremely disturbing -- what kind of training are these soldiers receiving? Numerous points are made throughout the film that the Marine corps doesn't really care about its constituents; they are "warriors," groomed for killing and death. Nothing more, nothing less it seems. Of course, if one of my friends was blown in half and then died in my arms, I'd be pissed too, and I'd want to strike back at those responsible. But the disgusting acts of violence committed against the innocent should never have happened. However, in the heat of battle, people make mistakes, and decisions are made on an emotional level, not an intellectual one. Broomfield shoots the movie in pseudo-doc fashion; lots of handheld camerawork, semi-improvised dialogue, and extremely realistic moments of graphic war violence. The acting is solid across the board but at times, with the kids playing the Marines, a little stilted. This could be because most of the actors playing the soldiers are just that -- soldiers -- and not professionally trained actors. BATTLE FOR HADITHA, like Brian De Palma's underrated REDACTED, is a very powerful reminder that we're up shit's creek without a paddle over in the Middle East, and there are lots of unstable and psychologically damaged Americans fighting a war that they don't quite understand. This is a point that has been hammered home, not just by this film and others like it, but by first-hand testimonials of soldiers who have completed their tours of duty. Broomfield doesn't hide his contempt for George W. Bush and American military policy in this film, and nor should he. Bush and his team have let the world down for the past eight years. And now, finally, they're about to be shown the door. Good riddance if you ask me. BATTLE FOR HADITHA is a potent piece of work.