The Big Movie: 'The War Tapes' (NR)
War, as seen through eyes of its beholders
Deployed to Iraq in 2004, three National Guardsmen were given digital video cameras, and their record of what they experienced in the violent Sunni Triangle makes for a moving, very personal document, one that's as revealing as it is disturbing.
More than the usual arm's-length documentary, the film allows us to get to know the soldiers intimately.
Cynical Sgt. Steve Pink, a 24-year-old writer who joined the Guard to pay for college, just wants to get in and out as quickly as he can. Twenty-four-year-old Lebanese-born Sgt. Zack Bazzi intends to make the military his career but has no love for the Bush administration.
Both men have complicated reasons for serving overseas, and their cameras document the changes they go through during their year in Iraq with an honesty rarely seen in even the most unblinking documentaries.
The most intriguing of the three, however, is 35-year-old Spc. Mike Moriarty, a deeply patriotic forklift driver and family man who signed up after 9/11 but comes to detest his military service.
Leaving behind a life as an unemployed, stay-at-home dad, his reasons for signing up are as much about proving himself in a personal way as they are about his patriotic leanings.
At one point in the film, Moriarty finds himself guarding a supply truck belonging to contracting company KBR/Halliburton and realizes that 'the priority of KBR making money outweighs the priority of safety.'
Seeing through the soldiers' eyes, we're pulled into their fear, frustration and gradual disillusionment. The carnage they see is graphic and brutal, and sometimes the men deal with it using the sort of gallows humor that allows them to distance themselves from the horrors around them.
Digging through what remains of a burning car to look for a body, one soldier offhandedly comments, 'There's usually a femur.' Elsewhere, one of the Guardsmen observes, 'Today was the first time I shook a man's hand that wasn't attached to his arm.'
The most emotionally devastating moment in the film, however, is the result of sheer accident, when the Guardsmen accidentally run over a civilian woman as she's crossing the street.
As gut-wrenching as the scenes involving gunfire and speeding vehicles are, it's this particular moment of unexpected anguish that drives home the emotional pain the men suffer.
Additional scenes shot by documentarian Deborah Scranton of their stateside families feels more obligatory than inspired, but the soldiers' footage offers a fascinating, vivid chronicle of war.
Moriarty, the fervent patriot who signed up out of a sense of duty to his country, communicates his feelings with heartbreaking honesty. 'They could offer me $500,000 and I would never go back there,' he says. 'I'm so glad I went. I hated it with a god-awful passion.'
Pink will be in attendance for a Q and A after the 7:30 p.m. screenings this week (FRIDAY-Thursday, Sept. 29-Oct. 5).
- Dawn Taylor Hollywood