Battle For Haditha

Battle For Haditha

DVD Rating: ****1/2

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Read Andrew Robertson's film review of Battle For Haditha

Two commentaries is a nice way of saying, “We care.” The first, by writer/director/producer Nick Broomfield, is one of the best I have ever heard. He is clear, not showy and surprisingly modest. That’s an unfair thing to say, I know, but his documentaries – certainly the recent ones – are more about him failing to meet the people he wants to film than the subject of his interest. Here, he stays out of it and underplays the difficulties of shooting in Jordan with non-actors.

He used ex-Marines and built a barracks especially for them during the filming. He was going to choose a well known American actor to play Corporal Ramirez, but Elliot Ruiz gave such a compelling performance in the early try outs that he was given the part. Fascinating snippets of information slip through almost unnoticed, like the problem he had with the love scene between the young married couple. “I couldn’t get any Iraqis to take their clothes off, or kiss on screen.” He got round it by using an American actress and a genuine Iraqi actor. Also, it was almost impossible to shoot the scene of the Marines having a shower. They wouldn’t do it until the (lady) producer asked them politely.

Copy picture

Facts about the war filter through his descriptions of how they achieved such realistic footage. More innocent people have been killed by indiscriminate remote controlled drones than died in the Haditha incident and yet there is never any official enquiries about these “mistakes.” During the trial in America of the original Marines, involved in the massacre, eyewitness evidence has been ruled out of court because they are Iraqis and therefore considered unreliable. The insurgents, the vast majority of whom are made up of the 600,000 soldiers who were dismissed with $100 compensation by Secretary of Defence Rumsfeld, are considered patriots in Jordan and President Bush is universally hated in Iraq, mainly for handing over the reconstruction of their devastated country to American companies.

Broomfield’s commentary is well backed up by Ruiz, who speaks from his own experience of three years service. He was badly injured in Decreet and invalided out, after which, according to him, the Marine Corp did nothing. He is particularly angry about their indifference and there are moments in the film when this anger erupts to great effect.

The Making Of featurette is conventional enough. Actors talk about their experience and what it means to them. Improv and ad libs are encouraged, rather than asking amateur actors to stick to a written script. Watching films being made can be a paint dryer, but because of the nature of this one it has more going for it. As Ruiz says, “I hope it catches a big ass buzz.”

The Fabulous Picture Show is the movie programme on the English edition of Al Jazeera with presenter Sami Ramadani and, judging by this episode, they do an excellent job. To celebrate the opening of Battle For Haditha, they organize a Q&A with Broomfield at a London cinema, in which he says, amongst other things, “We toned down a lot of what happened in the massacre.” Broomfield has a laconic style, which can be annoying, but his audience is too nice to make things hard for him. Despite the mutual back rub, this is worth watching.

Interview Gallery is a couple of In Conversation talks-to-camera by Eric Mehalacopoulos and Ruiz, the only two “actors” who had been in actual fire fights in Iraq. Both are articulate, intelligent and fascinating to listen to, partly because of their experience, natural modesty and no nonsense attitude. Both hated high school and went into the Marines because they wanted to get away and their fathers had been in the Corps. The DVD is worth buying just to hear what they have to say.

Casting Call has Andrew McLaren, who plays Capt Sampson, and Ruiz, who plays the main role of Corporal Ramirez, at their auditions when they are asked to act out an imaginary scene with a buddy, shooting the breeze and then responding when a shell goes off and the buddy is severely wounded. McLaren is the most convincing and Ruiz, who gives a superb performance in the film, is good, but not a stand out. Either way, and in every way, these men are most impressive.

Reviewed on: 30 Mar 2008
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Battle For Haditha packshot
Docudrama investigating an Iraqi massacre allegedly carried out by US soldiers.
Amazon link

Product Code: CTD51207

Region: 2

Ratio: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Wide Screen

Sound: Dolby Digital

Extras: Audio commentary by writer/director/producer Nick Brookfield; audio commentary by actor/ex-Marine Elliot Ruiz; Making Of featurette; Casting Calls; interviews; Q&A with Nick Broomfield and Sami Ramadani; trailer

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