- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 29, 2006

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.

Yes, the camerawork is often shaky and incoherent, but Miss Scranton spit polishes the footage without sacrificing the meat of the matter.

It’s the umpteenth variation on “war is hell,” but it’s a message delivered without the usual filters.

That’s not to say there aren’t agendas at play, but the inherent decency of the U.S. soldier remains the film’s unflagging core.

The story starts at Fort Dix, N.J., where three National Guardsmen gear up for the long plane trip to Iraq. The cameramen behind these “Tapes” are Sgt. Steve Pink, Sgt. Zack Bazzi and Spc. Mike Moriarty. Sgt. Pink fancies himself a writer, and his observations reveal a refreshing curiosity both about his work and the impact it will have.

Sgt. Bazzi, a Lebanese immigrant, is the most disdainful of the mission, while Spc. Moriarty stands out as the most conventionally “rah-rah” of the lot.

Each is deposited in Fallujah circa 2004, where the citizens remarkably go about their lives while the mortar shells ring out around them. The soldiers do more or less the same, while running missions to protect supply chains and even, at one point, a tanker full of human waste.

Nothing, it seems, is easy. Cultural ignorance prevents the soldiers from bonding with innocent civilians. Weak armor plating puts civilian contractors in harm’s way. And the horrors of the IEDs (improvised explosive devices) are laid bare during several jittery combat scenes.

The stories captured from the home front flesh out the characters yet prove all too predictable. What wife or mother wants to see her loved one overseas fighting a bloody war? The movie fails to exploit the potential in one woman left behind, the mother of Sgt. Bazzi. Her cultural ties would give her reflections the most weight, but her heart is so heavy with fear for her son’s safety it’s all consuming.

It’s unfair to lump “The War Tapes” in with other antiwar treatises, even if the filmmakers may sympathize with them. So, apparently, do some of the soldiers. One has a copy of the left-wing magazine the Nation on his nightstand. Two of the three seem resigned to the idea that the war is all about oil and money.

Miss Scranton takes more than one detour to show the soldiers’ disdain for the Halliburton trucks bringing supplies to the rebuilding nation.

Halliburton comes off much worse here than the faceless insurgents.

“The War Tapes” leaves out plenty, but it isn’t intended to be the definitive statement on the war. Still, it’s a shame we see little if any of the progress made in the country and that we don’t get to know any of the citizens themselves. One soldier takes a swipe at the media but isn’t given the chance to elaborate on his critique.

“The War Tapes” is embedded reportage without the reporters, and for some, perhaps, is the most accurate look to date at the ongoing conflict.


TITLE: “The War Tapes”

RATING: NR (Adult language, disturbing imagery, mature themes)

CREDITS: Directed by Deborah Scranton. Produced by Robert May and Steve James.

RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes

WEB SITE: www.thewartapes.com


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