It was November 2005 when a convoy of American soldiers were attacked while patrolling a main strip of road in a suburban section of Haditha, a city in the western Iraq province of Al Anbar. The resulting death of Lance Corporal Miguel Terrazas is said to be the instigating factor in the massacre that directly followed the attack. The original reports stated that 15 noncombatant civilians were killed in the convoy blast with eight subsequent deaths of "insurgents" handed out by the surviving soldiers.
An investigation by Time magazine's Tim McGuirk, which included a video of the houses where many of the victims were shot, prompted an eventual investigation by the U.S. military. These investigations led to the revelation that all 23 of the victims were massacred by the enraged Marines in a vengeful tirade following their comrade's death. The end result: Eight of the Marines involved were charged while most of the higher-ups who OKed the shootings were given free passes. As of early 2008, only three of the Marines were actually being fully prosecuted for the crime.
Filmed in handheld by Mark Wolf, Broomfield reconstructs these events with stunning ferocity and a natural sense for military mindset. He has an ace up his sleeve: The mostly non-professional cast is made up primarily of soldiers who were or are currently involved in the occupation. The normal tropes are still present: the chugging riffs of dollar-bin heavy metal soundtracking the calm before the storm, the heartless and overcooked American vengeance, the peculiar obsession with television and cellular phone technology, and the pomposity of both the military brass and the Islamic fundamentalists. But if these details were used to accent the action and causes of the conflict before, Haditha finds them as an essential and very real part of the current war's pastiche.
A sort of anti-Redacted, Battle for Haditha takes large steps to understand not only our boys but the innocent civilians in the scattered stone houses and the frustrated men who are manipulated into action by the religious leaders in Iraq and Afghanistan. Though the focus remains on the marines, due attention is given to two young lovers and their family in a small town of Haditha and the two men who work with terrorists to deploy the convoy attack. The doomed romance between two young Iraqis, a young lady and the father of her unborn child, smacks of convention but it goes far to understand what's going on under those chadors and burqas when Muslim women become combatants.
Past that, Broomfield even goes so far as to understand the men who set off the bomb not as anti-American mouthpieces but as genuinely remorseful and confused men who are scared for their family and easily manipulated by Islamic zealots. When returning home, the elder of the two "terrorists" holds his children tight after realizing that he has just begotten more violence that will undoubtedly come home to roost; he has effectively become a reason for the continuing massacre of American soldiers and Iraq civilians alike.
The depiction of the Iraq War in film has been inescapably compared to the cinematic representation of the Vietnam War but this war, and its cinema, is a whole other sort of animal. Nothing as cynical as De Palma's Redacted nor anything quite as understanding as Broomfield's film came out of Vietnam. Ironically, Haditha's closest cousin in Vietnam cinema is De Palma's oft-ignored Casualties of War, about the raping and massacring of a young female Vietnamese villager by a group of army privates. But as that war proved and as Broomfield pointed out earlier this year, there are hundreds of instances like the one in Haditha that happen without proof or a camera to capture them. Battle for Haditha belongs above the disturbingly lite pantheon of Iraq war cinema for many reasons but one comes off as most chilling: It knows that this isn't the first time, and it's surely not the last.
Run time: 97 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 7th May 2008
Distributed by: HanWay Films
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 67%
Fresh: 20 Rotten: 10
IMDB: 7.0 / 10
Director: Nick Broomfield
Producer: Nick Broomfield
Screenwriter: Nick Broomfield, Marc Hoeferlin, Anna Telford
Starring: Matthew Knoll as Cpl. Matthews (as Matthew R. Knoll), Elliott Ruiz as Cpl. Ramirez, Eric Mehalacopoulos as Sgt. Ross, Nathan De La Cruz as Cpl. Marcus, Andrew McLaren as Capt. Sampson, Jase Willette as Pfc. Cuthbert, Thomas Hennessy as Doc
Also starring: Nick Broomfield
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