Looking at Nick Broomfield’s filmography and seeing three decades of documentaries, you’d think that by now he would be more aware of the fallacies of cinematic objectivity. Yet here is Battle for Haditha, a fictional narrative where the filmmaker naïvely labors to impose a schematically “balanced” perspective onto real-life events. The November 2005 massacre of 24 Iraqi civilians by a group of U.S. Marines is the tragedy recreated here in the dubious Paul Greengrass mold, complete with camera shakes, contrived drama, and spurious “humanization.” As in De Palma’s Redacted, American soldiers stationed in the desert are portrayed as creatures with testosterone leaking out of their ears, shell-shocked by their operation’s blend of unpredictable danger and boredom. The Iraqi men who set the bomb that precipitates the slaughter, meanwhile, are regular guys with families (one with a sexy wife, the other with a young daughter), as ready to tell a George W. Bush joke as to spell out Broomfield’s didactic points (“The Americans made the insurgency when they got rid of the army”). The film fares better when surveying the civilians caught between the two sides, where a Kafkaesque sense of impotent doom is painted; aware of the explosives in their street, the Iraqi families can only stand frozen, knowing that they will be killed by the terrorists if they speak up, and arrested (and God knows what else) as conspirators by the Americans if they do not. When Cpl. Ramirez (Elliott Ruiz), inflamed by the death of his friend, leads bloodthirsty soldiers into houses and men, women, and children are killed, the whole thing is captured by an Al Qaeda camera and offered to the world as damning evidence: Broomfield understands that insurgents are in the business of creating martyrs as surely as military authorities are in the business of creating scapegoats. In viewing them primarily as fodder for gunfire, however, Broomfield reduces the characters to lambs sacrificed in tensely directed but subject-cheapening action sequences. The visceral battlefield scenes suggest that Broomfield may have looked at Saving Private Ryan, though the film’s trite last shot (a back-lit, faux-transcendental fantasy of intercultural union) implies the director had softer Spielberg movies in mind.
- Surreal Films
- 97 min
- Nick Broomfield
- Nick Broomfield, Marc Hoeferlin, Anna Telford
- Elliot Ruiz, Yasmine Hanani, Andrew McLaren, Matthew Knoll, Thomas Hennessy, Vernon Gaines, Oliver Bytrus, Danny Martinez, Joe Chacon, Eric Mehalacopoulos, Ali Adill Al-kaanan Desher, Falah Abraheem Flayeh, Duraid A. Ghaieb
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