June 22, 2006


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The War Tapes (NR)
Three New Hampshire National Guard members record the Iraqi war from their point of view in The War Tapes, a tense and engrossing documentary that will show in Concord and Manchester this weekend and around the area in coming weeks.

Watching The War Tapes I was reminded of last year’s Jarhead. Based on an account of a marine during the first Gulf War, that movie, though uneven, perfectly captured the tedium of war. Of men sent to be in a desert, trained for combat, set on edge by CNN and distant sounds of bombs but never really allowed to fight. The War Tapes has none of the fuzziness of that somewhat fictional film — here we get the crispness of digital video, the immediacy of an ongoing war and the gritty reality that comes with having real soldiers (not Jake Gyllenhaal) shoot real dead people and real action. But The War Tapes shares with Jarhead that soldierly frustration of seeing little or no combat, of spending lots of time on non-battle related tasks.

Little combat — but constant danger. Zach Bazzi, Michael Moriarty and Steve Pink, the three men that weld the cameras, live in the shadow of the IED (improvised explosive device) that provides a sort of faceless enemy, one they can’t shoot back at. They and fellow soldiers talk about a desire to wall they country off and just leave (or, as one says, forget the wall, let’s just go). Views on the war and of President Bush (their tour of duty includes the 2004 election) vary but everyone shares a moderate level of constant freak-out. We get the sense that a two-army hot war like World War II would be a blessing compared to the walking-on-eggshells feel of fighting the insurgency.

The men each deal with this nerve-wearing-on war in their own way. Bazzi, an immigrant to America from Lebanon, speaks Arabic and finds his ability to translate as both helpful (he can have actual conversations with Iraqis) and painful (as when he’s asked to turn back injured people seeking medical help). He seems the most conflicted about the justification for war even as he seems to feel deeply patriotic and duty-bound. Pink seems to be the most hopeful for some future reward — monetary if nothing else — for the US for fighting the war. Moriarty is the most focused on home life — returning to his wife and child (and the possibility that he might not) seems to take most of his attention.

We get a bit of footage on the men when they return home as well and this year of stress seems to have left them angrier and more anxious.

This is not a movie that offers new insight on the politics of this war but offers plenty of insight on modern war and the stress of soldiering. More affecting than any opinion driven case for or against military intervention in Iraq (or Iran, which also seems to worry the soldiers), this film elegantly shows the toll that these policies take on the everyday people who have to carry them out. A

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