Weapon of Mass Destruction: The Murderous Reign of Saddam Hussein Movie Review
The resulting production is infuriating, partly by design, partly by missteps. Weapon of Mass Destruction: The Murderous Reign of Saddam Hussein makes a powerful case against the world's negligence in failing to confront a tyrant who committed genocide in his own country. But the second half of WMD is a confused mess, delving into 9/11 and the reasons behind America's decision to take Hussein out.
Maaske admits his 96-minute documentary is a response to Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, but even from the other end of the political spectrum, this op-ed-style movie bears Moore's greasy fingerprints. Maaske borrows liberally from the Moore formula, jumping from historical reels, to on-location footage, to "expert" interviews, to news media archives, to melodramatic events, to man-on-the-street perspectives designed to make those with opposing viewpoints look ignorant, all in service to an uneven polemic.
Following a cursory history of Saddam's thuggish rise to power, the heart of WMD importantly chronicles his brutal tyranny over the Iraqi people, especially the well-documented genocide against the Kurds. While missing on some major points (like characterizing both Shiites and Sunnis as "Arabs" united against the Kurds), the staggering footage of mass graves and the testimony of survivors of torture, massacres, and chemical weapon attacks exemplify the Baathist disregard for innocent life. The interviewed Iraqis are all highly credible, and their pain is devastating.
But it's after returning to the homeland that the movie falters. The point of the movie isn't just to give Saddam his due, but to rationalize the American (and to a far lesser extent English, Australian, Italian, and let's-not-forget Polish) effort to remove him with force.
To do this, WMD transforms rather suddenly into a softer version of Fox "News." You'll be forgiven for a feeling of whiplash when 45 minutes of survivor footage transitions to a 15-minute retrospective on the attacks of 9/11, a "day that would forever change how America views her enemies." In his narration, Maaske frequently parrots phrases from the 2004 Republican National Convention, such as calling 9/11 an "unprecedented terrorist attack against America's freedom" (a simplistic characterization that's ignorant of Osama bin Laden's and Al Qaeda's motives and demands).
Before you know it, Maaske is praising the "Bush Doctrine" by jumbling up the 9/11 hijackers, the Taliban, Osama, Saddam, and even the post-war Iraqi insurgents who beheaded Nick Berg. Unless you're the type of person who has a hard time distinguishing Muslims, Arabs, and terrorists, you won't find this terribly convincing, particularly because it's so far removed from the details of Saddam's atrocities against Iraqis. (Once again, speeches from the 2004 Republican National Convention are featured as source material.)
The American personalities in WMD consist principally of conservative internet muckraker Evan Coyle Maloney, a scholar from the right-leaning Hoover Institute, and a professor from Biola University. (I hadn't heard of Biola either until I went to its website and read that it's "a theologically conservative, Protestant university that provides biblically centered education.") Maloney's presence is especially grating, since it primarily features useless, Moore-esque stunts, such as quizzing the craziest anti-war protestors he could find (including San Francisco schizophrenic Frank "12 Galaxies" Chu) and making them look like chumps.
Maaske himself, after introducing himself early in the movie, mostly stays out of the way, a fortunate decision since his narration is reminiscent of carpet store ads on local cable. But in spite of WMD devolving into a jingoistic mess in the second half, you gotta hand it to Maaske: He hocked everything he owned to make something he really cared about. And isn't that the real American dream?
Aka WMD: Weapon of Mass Destruction.