Judge Paul Prichard likes a different story or three once in a while.
There Are Many Ways To See The Same Story.
Based upon a real-life event that left one U.S. Marine and twenty-four Iraqis dead (amongst them women and children), Nick Broomfield's The Battle for Haditha combines a cast of unknowns with Broomfield's documentary style of filmmaking to produce the best war movie you've never heard of.
Facts of the Case
On November 19, 2005, Iraqi insurgents bomb a U.S. Marine convoy, killing one of the Marines and setting off a trail of death and destruction. Detailing each aspect of the attack, Battle for Haditha examines the events that led up to the bombing and the fallout that resulted in twenty-four dead Iraqi civilians.
There are no winners in Nick Broomfield's Battle for Haditha, only varying degrees of losers. Dramatizing the events that led to two Marines being severely wounded, with another losing his life following a roadside bomb attack, Battle for Haditha is a compelling and thought-provoking take on the war in Iraq.
What instantly stands out is Broomfield's approach to the subject matter. Despite clocking in at a lean 97 minutes, Battle for Haditha still manages to present three very different perspectives on the buildup to, and ramifications of the IED attack, with the separate paths eventually converging. Each tale is blessed with its own complexities, as morally ambiguous decisions are made on either side of the divide and uncomfortable questions are asked of the viewer.
The film opens with a group of U.S. Marines going about their daily duties; the monotony of their tasks is countered sharply by the palpable threat they face at every turn. Whether it be patrolling the ominous, crowded streets of Haditha, where each and every individual poses a potential threat, or traveling across vast expanses of harsh, barren desert, the terrifying reality faced by these troops everyday is captured in Broomfield's film. We spend a good hour with the Marines before the bomb attack, allowing us time to get to know them and making their reaction to the event understandable, despite being neither heroic nor just. The Marines go on a violent, ill-judged revenge mission, murdering women and children in scenes that are both shocking and upsetting. Glimpses of those higher up the chain of command suggests full blame for what transpired cannot be laid solely on the shoulders of the Marines. Instead Battle for Haditha seems to argue that the conditioning these young men have gone through and the lack of strong leadership on the ground are just as responsible for their disproportionate response. The film is also smart enough to acknowledge that, regardless of training or leadership, these young men are being placed in an ungodly situation, one where the lack of a clear objective makes any success purely subjective.
The two insurgents, particularly the older and wiser Ahmad (Falah Flayeh), are clearly not committed to Al-Queda's cause despite carrying out the attack in their name. Instead they are shown to feel betrayed by the Americans, blaming them for the state of their country even if they are happy Saddam has gone. They argue that the disbanding of the Iraqi army, along with the derisory compensation they were given, has led the insurgents to rise up and fight for their country. When violence erupts following the bombing and Ahmad witnesses the murder of innocent civilians, he is forced to confront the sad truth that his actions have led to this. Rather than leave the blame lying at the door of the insurgents, Battle for Haditha instead makes it perfectly clear that Iraq is currently locked in a cycle of violence fueled by the actions of all sides. The old maxim that violence breeds violence is brought sharply to mind.
Despite receiving less of the film's focus, the most affecting story is that of Hiba and her family. Battle for Haditha is perhaps the first western film to present Iraqis as real people, living their lives as best they can against the constant threat of violence. The film also asks us to question the role of the Iraqi public in the country's troubles. When Hiba witnesses the bomb being planted she is immediately conflicted. If she chooses to tell the Americans what she has witnessed, she, along with her family, can expect to be the next targets of the insurgents. On the other hand, if they don't tell the Americans they too are complicit in the murder of the Marines. What is made clear, thanks largely to the excellent performances, is how the Iraqi public, specifically those who are not overly politicized, is desperate for a return to normality.
The cast is excellent, helping to maintain the film's natural feel. Whether by choice or chance, Broomfield has been given a standout performance in each of the film's three storylines. Elliot Ruiz, as Cpl. Ramirez, channels his experiences as a Marine into his role. Ruiz was 17 years old when he joined the U.S. Marine Corps and saw action in Iraq only six months later. A pivotal moment, which sees Cpl. Ramirez suffer a breakdown, has such authenticity that it raises the question of exactly how much acting was required of Ruiz for the scene. Yasmine Hanani, as Iraqi citizen and mom-to-be Hiba, gives a heart-wrenching performance. In many ways Hiba is the soul of Battle for Haditha; her struggles to keep her family safe while her country is torn apart highlights the struggles the people of Iraq are currently going through and really puts our own problems into perspective. Finally there is Falah Flayeh, as the deeply conflicted Ahmad. Despite the terrible act he carries out Flayeh is able to instill a great deal of humanity into the role. More than anyone else in the film, Ahmad really brings into question our views on the war in Iraq.
The 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer offers a sharp and detailed image, with high detail levels and a fine layer of grain that never distracts. With Nick Broomfield shooting the film in a documentary-like manner, this natural looking transfer helps to draw the viewer in and enhances the films impact, something some flashier looking films fail to achieve. The DVD contains a first-rate 5.1 mix. Dialogue remains clear throughout, even during more action-orientated scenes. The soundtrack really comes alive during the movies final act. Following the roadside attack, all hell breaks loose, with explosions and gunfire dominating the mix and giving the rear speakers a fine workout.
Battle for Haditha comes to DVD packed with special features. Kicking things off is "The Making Of Battle For Haditha." Containing plenty of interviews from cast and crew, this lengthy featurette gives a good insight into the goings on behind the scenes, while detailing how this ambitious film was knocked into shape. An audio commentary allows director Nick Broomfield more time to share his experiences making the movie and divulge fascinating tidbits about the shoot. A conversation with former Marine and star Elliot Ruiz proves to be the highlight of the package, shedding even more light on the realities of war.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It's not so much an actual fault, but I do wonder how accurate Battle for Haditha actually is. The film is shot in such a way that it is easy to accept what is being presented as the truth; it is only afterwards that questions are raised about how authentic it actually is.
There is also an argument that with U.S. troops still in action over in Iraq, the harsh realities of Battle for Haditha may hit a little too close to home. With its depiction of U.S. Marines committing such an atrocity, coupled with the fact that this is based on a real event, the film is likely to be upsetting for some viewers, particularly when showing the murder of children.
A complex, harsh, and totally riveting experience, Battle for Haditha presents a new perspective on the U.S. involvement in Iraq and offers an evenhanded view on the conflict.
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