Prisoner Of War


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Prisoner Of War
"Though both Moran and Abtahi deliver effective performances, the script is hampered by what feels like a lack of confidence in its own narrative."

Ten years on, what happened at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq still sits uneasily in the American consciousness, yet as a new generation of soldiers faces the possibility of war, it is important that there should be reminders of what took place. Prisoner Of War sets out to be such a reminder, and to be an honest film about war. It doesn't quite cut it in either regard, but it still contains some interesting work.

Luke Moran has picked a challenging subject for his feature debut - especially as he is starring as well as directing and producing - and it opens well, as a young soldier's cheesy introduction to his squad is effectively contrasted with the tedium of ts allotted role in the War on Terror. Set to guard a prison complex outside Baghdad, sleeping in a former cell, the soldiers have little to do but wander around the yard, tease each other and get into scraps. This reflects recent accounts of such work accurately enough. The problem is that it doesn't reflect life in Abu Ghraib. If one is going to set out to tell that story, a single scene in which shells are heard falling and a single warning about them from an officer are not enough. Boredom is an important factor in the story, but the sustained assault that prison was under, and the pressure it created, are missing. Accordingly, we don't see the overall mood of the soldiers changing - only Jack, when he volunteers to work with the inmates, has any kind of character arc.

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Once we are in the interior of the prison, what we see is predictably brutal, and well shot, with some images drawn directly from the photographs that emerged in 2004. Jack is told to show no sympathy for his charges, to humiliate them where possible, to play loud music to keep them awake, and never to talk to them. Despite the discomfort he feels about this, the latter rule is easy to stick to, because none of them speak English - until Ghazi (Omid Abtahi) arrives. Where other prisoners hurl faeces and attempt to stab their captors, Ghazi is calm, well-mannered, an easy person with whom to find a sense of kinship in a lonely place. Soon he and Jack are supporting each other with what they both need most - an enduring awareness of the wider world. But it's a dangerous friendship, especially when the interrogators arrive.

Though both Moran and Abtahi deliver effective performances, the script is hampered by what feels like a lack of confidence in its own narrative. Potentially strong psychological material is set aside in favour of simplistic solutions at each stage in story development, and although there is an inherent moral complexity to the tale, most of the ethical questions it raises are ducked or ignored. The result is something that feels a bit like a young adult novel - it's adequate in its way but unlikely to satisfy a more mature audience or, indeed, to have anything new to say to them about war. It is honest insofar as it provides a young soldier's perspective, but as the soldier shows very little self awareness, and not much else is shown, it's essentially superficial.

The story of what actually happened at Abu Ghraib is a fascinating one and deserves much more thorough treatment than this, though for all its flaws, Prisoner Of War is evidently well intentioned. it doesn't have the weight it needs, but it reveals Moran as a competent young filmmaker who may well go on to do something interesting.

Reviewed on: 17 Aug 2014
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Prisoner Of War packshot
A young US soldier posted to an Iraqi prison forms a forbidden friendship with a detainee.
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Director: Luke Moran

Writer: Luke Moran

Starring: Luke Moran, Omid Abtahi, Sean Astin, Sara Paxton, John Heard, Michael Welch

Year: 2014

Runtime: 102 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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