This is a reality show that's not going to have anyone accusing it of being
secretly scripted. No, this is war in Iraq and it's our troops in their
day-to-day personalities while on their mission as recorded by directors
Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein ("The Last Cowboy") with their digital
camera and embedded presence.
The 2/3 Field Artillery, or the 1st Armored Division, (aka, the "Gunners")
stationed in Giessen, Germany, have taken over the partially destroyed
pleasure compound of Uday Hussein, one of Saddam's sons, and branded it
"Gunner Palace." Signs of its palatial appointments are in evidence, as is
the life-style of its former resident, an essentially greedy, despotic
character who lived high on oil revenues as most of his fellow Iraqis were
starving. His enemies now have turned it into a headquarters, a place of
refuge and military discipline in a volatile corner of Baghdad.
Which does not at all describe the technical aspects of this documentary.
Storytelling discipline is missing, as is any comprehensive narrative flow.
It records a series of night patrols and surprise attacks on suspect houses
which depend on intelligence from sources that are less than reliable. These
short clips of night raids and daytime street patrols are intercut with
interviews of even briefer duration with soldiers who are only too glad to
express their thinking, and a series of thankfully brief G.I. rap
The thoughts expressed by our guys are candid and down to earth, if not
earthy. There's a lot of talk about death in the captured dialogue between
the troops, and the dirtiest words and thoughts in the language fill the lyric
of the raps. The "F---" word is used 42 times throughout the film, mostly in
the songs of protest. Which does nothing to elevate their stature in the
spectrum of class or free expression.
That aside, the value of this film is in its brutal, totally unglamorized
honesty. If you want to get a feel for what our guys are experiencing in
Iraq, complete with attitude and personal enrichment, you need to see an
account that cuts through the bullshit, the candy-wrapped White House
descriptions, staged events, edited media clips and other filtrations. This
is the real thing -- or, as close as you're likely to get to it without
having your own boots on the ground.
We recognize in our guys the kind of people we see everywhere -- fellow
Americans who aren't sophisticated or devious enough to put on airs or lie
for the camera -- even to support official propaganda and euphemistic
political interpretations. This is as unalloyed a look at who our people are
in the Iraqi theatre of war and how they're conducting themselves as anything
Tucker and Epperlein's film is a series of vignettes with a purpose, not
letting a pre-determined story distort the reality. Their being there in the
thick of it gives us a vivid sense of the feel of the place and the mortal
dangers, the use of translators, the interaction with Iraqi families and
children on the street, the range of feeling towards American troops by
city residents, and the soldiers holding up a courageous face in spite of
the fear of what may come at them from any direction. Dealing with hidden
IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) and suspect packages on the streets...
the possibility of sudden death... business as usual in this zone.
One of the film's telling moments comes from a young G.I. who describes the
line of reason that allows him to endure killing someone because they could
kill him. We recognize ourselves in the need to rationalize an action that
is anything but natural except in a combat situation. Killing doesn't become
automatic just because of boot camp training. In that camp, taking lives is
theoretical. On the ground in Iraq, it's a requirement, however alien to who
Highly recommended as must viewing for all young, potential enlistees.
~~ Jules Brenner