Mar 16, 2005

Movie review 

Some war stories will never make the nightly news.

400 American soldiers carry out their mission from a bombed-out pleasure palace once owned by Saddam Hussein. This is their story.
Blackfive has been running at the mouth for awhile now about the film "Gunner Palace". So I decided to go see it on the strength of his commentary, and for a few other reasons - not the least of which because I may BE in Baghdad or the vicinity at a point in the not too distant future. Might as well take the opportunity to get a good look at the lay of the land.

First of all, let me preface this by saying that I saw this film in the ONLY theater it's playing in between Los Angeles and Mexico. It was filled nowhere close to capacity. The only people who were there were people who had made an effort to search this film out... more on them in a moment.

The theater itself is one of those kind of places that I both love and hate. Small, personal, kind of olde tyme feel to the movie experience... good. Staff that looks and acts like they just got off from their other job at the record store which by default makes them cooler than you... bad. This is the kind of place that only plays indie films... good and bad. Good because you get stuff like "Gunner Palace." Bad because it attracts people that think watching independent films makes them a superior lifeform to all us schlepps who like a big budget action flick.

People like the guy next to me in the line for refreshments. I kid you not, the guy actually asked "Is that real cappuccino back there?"

Made me feel dirty... I was in a movie theater that even had cappuccino as an option...

The crowd was small but definitely a mixed bag. There were obvious Marines in there... guys with hair so short it made me look positively scraggly (and I have to keep a pretty good high-reg or I get a case of the "white-man's-afro" you don't even want to know about). And then there were your burned out hippies... the kind that take as much pride in the "Kerry '04" bumper stickers on their Volvos as they do in the "Mondale/Ferraro '84" stickers that are still there as well. Everybody with an agenda. Everybody with some kind of preconception about this film... about this war.

And I think everybody... got what they wanted...

If ever there was a film that could act as a mirror of each individual viewer's personal beliefs, this is it. The hard-chargers got motivated to go cap some Hajis for mom, the flag, and apple pie, while the flower-children had their suspicions confirmed that Rumsfeld actually IS Satan and that American soldiers are dumb kids, basically forced to join the military because they have no other options in life. Everyone came away happy.

But regardless of your personal political stance, this film does one thing better than any other that I can think of: it lets the American fighting man tell the tale for himself. It doesn't sugarcoat or water down anything. Granted, it's not a Marine Corps film (which I feel would have been a vastly different product), but it's an American combat soldier's film and should be seen by anyone who thinks they know what's going on in the sandbox. You have no idea...

There is no gratuitous violence and no one gets killed on screen (odd for a "war film," eh?), but some people we meet do die, and there is an abundance of colorful language (not so odd for the military).

Some people on the Left say this film glorifies war, and I've even heard a few on the Right say this is an anti-war film and that the filmmaker has liberal leanings. I say it's whatever you want it to be. For me, it seemed to lean slightly to the anti-war side... but then why wouldn't it? It's a soldier's story right? Every soldier is anti-war. War means we have to leave home, work long hours, and get shot at. That sucks. Who could possibly be pro-THAT?

All the anti-war protesters back here in the states have no reason to bitch. They aren't going to be shot at. They aren't going to have to wonder which rooftop would make a good RPG position. NOT ONE liberal college professor is in danger of being hit by an IED on his way across town today... not even Ward Churchill. So what the hell do they care if there's a war on or not? They aren't going to fight in it.

The Gunners know that, see? And so they do their job... and they love it and they hate it all at the same time. And that's what really comes across in this film. Politics be damned.


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