Thursday, December 26, 2013

Movie with Abe: Dirty Wars

Dirty Wars
Directed by Rick Rowley
Released June 7, 2013 / DVD October 15, 2013

Several years ago, the Oscar Best Documentary field was filled with films about present-day wars. “No End in Sight” was a self-explanatory look at the questionable goals of war, “Operating Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience” was a reflective look at war and its lingering effects on soldiers, and “Taxi to the Dark Side” was a brutal critique of unlawful detainment and torture on the part of U.S. forces, all in 2007 alone. Last year, “The Invisible War” investigated sexual assault in the military, while “5 Broken Cameras” and “The Gatekeepers” took on a non-American army. “Dirty Wars,” a finalist for the Best Documentary Oscar category this year, is an expected successor to all those, examining the practices of covert operations and unpublicized civilian casualties in Afghanistan and other countries.

The title of the film says a lot, and it has many meanings. One could be that American forces play dirty, using the oft-perceived notion of America as world peacekeeper as a free pass for unprovoked questioning and presumption of guilt as well as the acceptability of collateral damage. Another could be the implied corruption within the military infrastructure, that everyone knows that certain things need to be done because of the ends with the means disregarded, and no one stands up for what happens in the space in between. “Dirty Wars” doesn’t go as far as “Zero Dark Thirty,” showcasing the lengths to which torture and other methods of interrogation occur, but instead pauses to look more closely at the fact that military raids and operations are happening in countries with which the U.S. is most definitely not at war.

The ultimate question when it comes to any documentary about a country’s government or defense program is what it seeks to achieve. Much like Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks, journalist Jeremy Scahill seems most concerned with outright transparency and a reasonable explanation for each major (or minor) move that the U.S. military makes which causes inexorable harm to innocents. Whether what he reveals is more damaging to the war on terror, a phrase which Scahill certainly does not appreciate or like, than not is up for debate, but this film is sure to make a lot of people unhappy, which Scahill hopes will translate into action and organizational change. As a narrator, Scahill demonstrates that he knows what he is talking about, but his endless nodding and accusatory attitude makes him harder to like despite the seeming veracity of his claims. Political feelings will contribute greatly to how enjoyable this film is, but it is definitely informative and thorough, and its glossy cinematography makes it stand out all that much more.


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