More Press Reviews of The War Tapes
The War Tapes has received an extraordinary amount of press over the past few weeks, adding to the already impressive collection of stories written about the movie. What's more, the reviews have been almost uniformly positive. In fact, The War Tapes currently sits atop of Rotten Tomatoes (a site that rates movies based upon their positive and negative reviews) list of best reviewed movies for 2006. Here are a few samples of press reviews from the past two weeks:
Is it too much to ask that "The War Tapes," a riveting, audacious new documentary about the Iraq war, be required viewing in every classroom and living room in America? Or at least the Oval Office?
Make no mistake: "The War Tapes," in which three National Guard soldiers deliver graphic first-person accounts of their year serving in Iraq, is not an overtly political film. It appears to grind no partisan ax, nor score either red or blue points. Whether viewers support the war or not -- or find themselves somewhere in the mushy middle -- "The War Tapes" won't fit comfortably into the pigeonholes of their preconceptions. What it does do, with grim and often gruesome honesty, is show the realities of war to a public that has been largely shielded from its cost.
They take us to places in Iraq few of us have seen before. And what we see takes a numbing toll that leaves you angry with the bumbling bureaucrats and in absolute awe of the sacrifice, not to mention the bravery, of the soldiers, most of whom never imagined they’d being going to war when they volunteered for Guard duty.
While the film takes no clear political stance, the soldiers aren’t quite so reserved, often expressing frustration with both President Bush, who they believe isn’t being truthful, and with a government they believe is more concerned about the financial interests of Halliburton (whose supply convoys they’ve been assigned to guard) than their safety.
SPC Mike Moriarty in a Gun Turret
From the opening sequence, the audience is confronted with a visceral experience of battle unlike any reporting from Iraq to date. The frame in these scenes resembles something like a first-person video game--the weapon extended before us as we flinch from the sound of enemy fire and feel the vibrations of the rapid-fire weapons. But it is clear that this is no game.
The War Tapes offers a different view. Televised reports from Iraq by mainstream media--a firefight or the mop-up of an insurgent bombing--enter the scene from the outside. Often the footage has little to do with the accompanying narrative by an anchor in the studio or by a reporter on the scene. They provide the basic facts--estimates of the number of killed or injured and speculation from the usual suspects on who might be responsible--but little about the battle itself and its impact on those fighting it. Often televised scenes from Iraq have nothing to do with the topic under discussion, reducing human tragedy to B-roll for cable commentators grinding political axes.
SGT Steve Pink with girlfriend Lindsay Coletti
...it’s important to note, when U.S. forces are sometimes criticized for callousness, the soldiers depicted here display genuine horror when, for example, they accidentally run over an Iraqi woman. And no matter what you feel about the war, seeing “The War Tapes” helps you feel proud of these soldiers, even reassured.
The left-leaning documentarians have had their say on the Iraq war. Filmmaker Deborah Scranton is letting the men in combat have a crack at it.
"The War Tapes" arms three soldiers with cameras so they can file their own reports from the front lines. The results -- spanning from the soldiers' conflicted patriotism to their near universal cynicism for the task at hand -- defy conventional expectations.
With no journalist or narrator acting as intermediary between audience and subjects, "The War Tapes" provides rare insight and immediacy. It takes no sides, just paints a raw portrait — one that its soldier/filmmakers hope will be a "service to the American people."
...unlike other documentaries about war, this one offers a fly-on-the-wall view of the experience — primarily from three of the soldiers' and their families' perspective — before, during and after their deployment.
Gradually, the film's moving achievement becomes clear. ``The War Tapes" parries away any direct political agenda and emphasizes, with valiance, three aspects of the conflict's human toll. Scranton commands us to temper any distaste for this war with respect and empathy for the men and women who have to fight it.
SGT Zack Bazzi on the radio in a Humvee.
There's a lot to process when watching "The War Tapes," and that's probably why the documentary gets even better a few days later. The film is the product of a successful experiment to make a war documentary in an entirely new way. Filmmaker Deborah Scranton could have embedded herself in Iraq and followed a handful of guys for a few months. Instead, she gave some New Hampshire National Guardsmen digital cameras, had them record whatever they wanted, and then she edited the results -- more than 1,000 hours distilled into a 97-minute film.
The results are revelatory, and yet not easily encapsulated or defined. On the most basic level, we get to see the war. We see what Fallujah looks like (there's very little of it left). We see an insurgent bomb go off, out of absolutely nowhere. We see a street battle, and later we see the aftermath, of the guys back in their tents marveling at almost getting killed. One guardsman describes it as "the most helpless feeling" he's ever had, to go to sleep every night worrying that he won't wake up.
But the movie goes much deeper than that. At its best, "The War Tapes" serves as an exploration of the soldier mentality -- or at least of the mentality of the folks who'd volunteer to go to Iraq. The guardsmen film themselves, have their friends film them and, in turn, film their friends. Because they're speaking either to themselves or comrades, they speak with a candor no documentarian could have captured. And though they try to present themselves as they'd like to be perceived, they inevitably, through stress and the sheer number of hours on camera, present themselves in total.
Each viewer will see the movie, and these guardsmen, in a different way. One inescapable impression is that the impulse to sign up and go to Iraq seems an impulse to escape moral complexity and life disappointment. It's always personal. Patriotism may enter into it, but mainly as a sanctification, a story to tell oneself.