Battle For Haditha

Battle For Haditha


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Battle for Haditha isn't a documentary, and it isn't quite fiction. It could be called 'devised drama', and it certainly has something in common with Edinburgh Festival smash The Black Watch. Occupying a vague hinterland between history and reconstruction, it's both powerful and affecting.

Nick Broomfield has been making documentaries for almost thirty years. His investigations of sex, celebrity, serial killers and South African politics have given him a cult reputation. His usual approach is not without controversy. Often on camera while acting as soundman, his documentaries often end up focusing as much on his interactions with his subjects as his subjects themselves. In parts, his approach paved the way for the careers of Louis Theroux and Morgan Spurlock. Some subjects are totally unsuited to this approach, however, and so Broomfield has found another way to look at the world.

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Battle for Haditha owes its existence to an earlier Broomfield documentary, Ghosts, made about the deaths of Chinese immigrant cockle pickers in Morecambe Bay. It too was something less than absolute truth, and something more than just the story; not quite a reconstruction as much as a representation.

The film focuses on a single incident of the current war in Iraq, when a US Marine Corps unit allegedly went on a murderous rampage after being attacked with a roadside bomb. Events themselves aren't entirely clear, and a complex NCIS investigation saw charges brought (and then dropped) against most of those involved. Battle for Haditha doesn't have a plot to speak of - it's a series of events in chronological order, yes, indeed, with causative links, implied and explicit, but there is no beginning, middle, or end - this is a "slice of life". With a cast largely composed of novice and amateur actors, many of whom are Iraqi refugees or veterans, the film feels real, even to the extent that it does not draw any conclusions.

There are three broad strands: Among the Marines stationed in Haditha newcomer Elliot Ruiz is Corporal Ramirez, a 20 year old who is also a hardened veteran, convincing in triumph, defeat, and rage, a leader of men and undoubtedly damaged; Yasmin Hanani (last seen in The Kingdom) is one of the civilians, preparing for a party to celebrate a relative's circumcision; finally, Jafar and Ahmad (Oliver Bytrus and Falah Abraheem Flayeh) unlikely "insurgents", a video store worker and a soldier whose imminent retirement was made certain by the fall of Saddam. A bomb is planted by the roadside on the instructions of the "foreign fighters" near the house where the celebrations are to take place, and when a Marine unit drives past, it detonates.

This is uncomfortable viewing, not least because most of those involved are amateurs. There is genuine grief, genuine rage, remembered and brought to the screen. The injury Corporal Ramirez shows is a real one, sustained by the actor during his time in Iraq, though other wounds are simply excellent make-up effects. Much of the dialogue was improvised, and as such is all the more affecting. Broomfield has an excellent eye for action, and Battle for Haditha benefits from his vision - it feels neither televisual nor filmic, but documentary. Save the traditional songs performed by the cast, there's only a little music, and it's well used. The score was provided by composer Nick Laird-Clowes and industrial metal act Ministry. It seems a jarring mixture, and it is - the Marines seem tourists, a High School football team with iPods and machine guns.

Battle for Haditha strikes a delicate balance between truth and its depiction. This isn't, strictly, a reconstruction, more a replica. It would have been easy to demonise the Marines involved, but Broomfield manages to humanise them, victims of the war and the prosecution of the war as much as victimisers. Occasional scenes in the remote headquarters of the Corps with men being killed by remote control are chilling. Never has the chain of command seemed so loose, so callous, so clueless. This is powerful, challenging film-making, and, with the success of United 93, might be argued as part of the genesis of a new form of filmed documentary.

Reviewed on: 31 Jan 2008
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Docudrama investigating an Iraqi massacre allegedly carried out by US soldiers.
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Director: Nick Broomfield

Writer: Nick Broomfield, Marc Hoeferlin, Anna Telford

Starring: Elliot Ruiz, Yasmine Hanani, Andrew McLaren, Eric Mehalacopoulos, Matthew Knoll, Thomas Hennessy, Vernon Gaines, Oliver Bytrus, Duraid A Ghaieb

Year: 2007

Runtime: 93 minutes

Country: UK

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If you like this, try:

The Kingdom
United 93