Unlike the FOX News Channel, Gunner Palace does not have the audacity to use “fair and balanced” as its ad slogan, but many critics are likely to label the documentary as such. If the label fits it’s because the events captured in Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker’s film—named after Uday Hussein’s bombed-out pleasure palace where an American artillery unit now lives and operates—speak for themselves about the difficulty of America’s present role in a “free” Iraq. Though Epperlein and Tucker understand their film to be more relevant than reality television programs like Survivor and Joe Millionaire (they say as much in the opening scenes), it’s interesting that Gunner Palace—and I don’t say this to be glib—could pass for a Baghdad edition of The Real World. During the few months Tucker lived and rode around with the 2/3 Field Artillery (a.k.a. “The Gunners”), he was not only able to document the daily grind of bomb scares, patrols, and bomb invasions, but the private confessionals of soldiers that have mixed feelings about their involvement in Iraq but are unmistakably concerned about the people around them (the best scenes in the film involve socially-conscious black soldiers rapping about life on the Baghdad streets they patrol). Tucker shows us the horror of people gripped by fear of American troops charging into their houses and an Iraqi journalist stripped of his right to speak because he is believed to be making bombs inside his home, but he also shows us soldiers playing with young children and helping an orphan boy who is hooked on sniffing glue. In short, Tucker does what Michael Moore and FOX News are incapable of doing by illuminating both sides of the truth. In this case it means showing us both the heroes and the schmucks. I can’t help but look at the black, brown, and underprivileged men and women in the film and think of fat cats in Washington using slogans like “be all that you can be” to appeal to the part of our populace they wish they could scrape off the bottom of their shoes—this is the reality of what our government does (I can recall the visits from military recruits back in high school to prove it), and it’s a point that Moore rightfully argues, albeit belligerently, in Fahrenheit 9/11, but this is a prejudice Gunner Palace goes beyond. In the faces of our troops, we recognize everyday men and women trying to do right by their country and their own moral standards—they make mistakes, and it’s easy to see how those mistakes will have repercussions on the political lives of others, but sometimes they do good, and it’s easy to see it in the reactions of the Iraqis in the film. Gunner Palace is somewhat shapeless, but considering that it documents an ongoing mess, I’d be a fool to dog its structure considering its powerful objective stance.
Image and sound quality control is slightly above average, something that can't be said about George W. Bush's mission in Iraq.
Seventeen additional scenes totaling almost 30 minutes (capped by an outstanding back-home sequence about a former solider bemoaning the disregard friends have for his military service), three Gunner Freestyles, the film's U.S. theatrical trailer, weblinks, and trailers for Freestyle: The Art of Rhyme, Bomb the System, and The Nomi Song.
Sans White House PR spin, Gunner Palace is a much-needed look at the war in Iraq from the perspective of our troops.