A.O. Scott has written the must-read review of Gunner Palace, about which I have written several posts before.
I am going to paste some of the best grafs from the New York Times review:
“Gunner Palace” does not present a clear or coherent point of view of why or how the war has been fought, but this limitation is also a virtue. Clarity and certainty, the movie suggests, are luxuries that come with distance and hindsight. What the soldiers have to deal with from day to day is far more chaotic and changeable, so it makes sense that chaos should be not only the filmmakers’ subject but also a crucial aspect of their method.
This pretty much concurs with my view that people will often have their own biases confirmed when they see the film, but they will still get a sense of how soldiers ‘feel’ their day on the front lines of urban patrol in Baghdad.
Mr. Tucker’s occasional voice-over narration is deliberately flat and prosaic. The rough poetry that his video camera captured belongs to the setting – a landscape that is bright, teeming and tense by day, eerie and murky by night – and to the soldiers, several of whom are talented free-style rappers and spoken-word declaimers. Their rhymes and beats punctuate the film and provide it with a dense, dizzying eloquence.
But even soldiers with plainer verbal styles and different modes of expression manage to stamp their experiences with something of their own personalities. The older officers speak in world-weary bureaucratese, their professionalism tinged with both cynicism and pride. The unit’s designated cut-up, a round-faced soldier from Colorado who seems alternately sensitive and sociopathic, strums his electric guitar and cracks jokes. One young man speaks excitedly of the thrill of combat, while another muses that nothing is ever improved by the taking of a life.
In refusing to generalize or to judge, “Gunner Palace” opens itself up to varying interpretations, all of them likely to be colored by the interpreter’s prior opinions about the war. The soldiers’ irreverent humor, and the efficient brutality with which they break into Iraqi homes in their hunt for “bad guys,” may suggest a prelude to the abuse at Abu Ghraib (which is where, we are told, many of those arrested will go). The scene of an American officer, who speaks no Arabic, trying to moderate a raucous neighborhood council meeting, reveals both the absurd challenge of imposing democracy on Iraq and also the patience, seriousness and goodwill it requires.
The interactions between Iraqis and the Americans suggest a mutual ambivalence – a desire for some kind of constructive relationship that coexists with suspicion, incomprehension and sometimes contempt. Iraq and the United States are both societies full of contradiction, and to watch “Gunner Palace” is to see the contradictions multiply.
The raw inconclusiveness of “Gunner Palace” is the truest measure of its authenticity as an artifact of our time and of its value for future attempts to understand what the United States is doing in Iraq. Over the last few years, we have been subjected to an awful lot of certainty – from proponents of the war, from its critics and even from vacillators and equivocators. “Gunner Palace,” in its savage, intelligent, boisterous messiness, is a welcome antidote to the self-convinced rhetoric of pundits and politicians. Each time I have seen it, I have emerged feeling moved, angry, scared, hopeful, frustrated and dispirited – and grateful for this confusion, which is its own form of understanding.
I recommend the film if it opens in a city near you, or rent it when it becomes available. And show your teeanagers.
— Steve Clemons