Dirty Wars


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"An intriguing documentary which contains some powerful interview material."

It begins with a journey out into the mountains, into a part of Afghanistan where "the Taliban own the roads after dark." Reporter Jeremy Scahill knows he can't uncover much news in the Green Zone, where he has basically been reduced to recycling press releases, so he makes the journey everyone has advised him against, running the risk of kidnap and murder. There he meets a family. They were holding a party, they tell him, to celebrate the birth of a new baby. Everybody was dancing and singing. Daoud heard a noise and went outside to investigate. He found American soldiers who shot him dead, then stormed the house, killing several more.

One hears stories like this from time to time and they can't always be trusted. But the world is changing. These days, even in the most desperate, war-ravaged places, people have mobile phones, and this family covertly videoed soldiers digging bullets out of the corpses with knives, covering up the evidence. it's this, and just the horror of the incident, that grabs Scahill's attention. The US already acknowledges that, from time to time, its work results in civilian casualties. Why go to so much trouble to cover this incident up?

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This is merely the first stop on a far more dangerous road that Scahill finds himself travelling. As is the way with these things, each answer leads to more questions, and the answers grow increasingly absurd. There is a Dr Strangelove quality to this film, only no-one's laughing. In a way this absurdity protects those responsible. It invites us to dismiss Scahill's findings as conspiracy theory. The problem is, conspiracies do exist, and where they do, human incompetence can be every bit as dangerous as malice. This is a portrait of a system eating itself. yet one with very capable PR team who seem to be ahead of Scahill at every turn. It's also a portrait of American society in flux, where getting away with murder is often just a matter off keeping things quiet until public opinion shifts.

Not quite as tight as it needs to be, especially when it comes to building links between its various strands, this is nevertheless an intriguing documentary which contains some powerful interview material. Its biggest problem is that Scahill's conclusion, though it should certainly be cause for concern, cannot match the emotional impact of the first part of the film. It's the family that viewers will remember, living and dying in the shadow of the mountains.

Reviewed on: 29 Nov 2013
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When an Afghan family is attacked by US soldiers, a journalist sets out to investigate.
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Director: Richard Rowley

Year: 2013

Runtime: 87 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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