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War Tapes, The
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by Jason Whyte

"You still thinking about enlisting?"
4 stars

“We’re here for the safety of the United States”, Sergeant Zack Bazzi says in conversation with another trooper at about the halfway point of the blinding new documentary “The War Tapes”, and the look of his face as he discusses the reason of them being there, to protect their homeland from oppressive forces, is the key to understanding the purpose of the movie. “The War Tapes” doesn’t intend to answer the bigger questions of the Iraq War. What it does do, however, is give us a fresh perspective on the front lines of one of the most controversial wars in history.

In early spring of 2004, three men with the National Guard were given cameras by filmmakers Deborah Stanton and Steve James (of “Hoop Dreams” fame) to document everything that went on during their tour in Operation Iraqi Freedom. We meet Steve Pink, a carpenter who has left his long-term girlfriend for service in Iraq. There is also Zack Bazzi, a Lebanese student living in America (he also speaks fluent Arabic) who agreed to sign on for service to be able to travel. There is also Mike Moriarty, a mechanic who has a loving wife and daughter, and was fuelled to join the National Guard after seeing the horrific aftermath of September 11th, 2001.

The film cuts from the perspectives of the three cameras to focus on the day-to-day operations of being a soldier and learning their lingo, and how generalizations and assigning terms to people still exists in this day and age. Like how the term “Gook” was designated to all Vietnamese during the Vietnam War, the term “Haji” is assigned to all Iraqi people, negatively, by troopers despite the fact that a Haji is an Arabic term given to someone who makes a pilgrimage to Mecca. (Watch “Malcolm X” sometime)

Later on, we are witness to how the troops interact with the supplies given to them. Mess hall, transport and supplies are all provided by KBR/Haliburton, which is tied to former CEO and now Vice-President Dick Cheney. It is funny, if a bit shocking, to hear a soldier describe that it costs the government $28 every time a soldier has a meal consisting of hot entrees and franchise food, and how nearly every aspect of providing for the soldiers is bankrolled by Haliburton.

These sequences are intercut with “back home” clips of family and friends of the three “cameramen” and we see how the war affects their lives. “I still shudder every time I see the news”, Steve’s girlfriend tells us, and we understand her pain. Moriarty’s wife tries to adjust to life without their husband and take care of the children, and even though she’s angry that he decided to leave this life for another one, she supports him.

The effect of seeing the point-of-view approach to the soldier’s day-to-day routine is intense to watch. Most of the footage, from small digital video cameras, comes across as shaky and running along with the soldiers, but it is unlike any news coverage can provide. We see Tom Brokaw on the news frequently and he was there when the Iraq war started, but mostly hovering behind the tanks and outside of the shit.

What I admired the most is how Stanton stays pretty much exclusively with the three leads and only shows how they work with their unit. There were several other “war tapes” filmed around the same time as these ones (add them to the DVD perhaps? A sequel?) but in keeping it grounded with Steve, Zack and Michael, we nearly become another soldier with the camera and are involved as they are.

“The War Tapes” ends on somewhat of a downbeat note, as we see Steve, Zack and Mike return to life with war haunting them. We see Steve not wanting to seek help for his stress, Mike dealing with his carpal tunnel syndrome which he gained from the war and and Zack signing back up for the National Guard. You watch these three stories, feel for them and wonder how many more stories are happening with these troops…and at what cost?

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=14381&reviewer=350
originally posted: 09/01/06 05:07:15
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Tribeca Film Festival For more in the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Orlando Film Festival For more in the 2006 Orlando Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/05/07 William Goss Unbiased, unsentimental accounts of the Iraq war from the soldiers themselves. 4 stars
11/18/06 C Lupella Fantastic film. Should be seen by everyone to understand the personal implications of war. 5 stars
8/10/06 P Kane This movie is a fraud. Total liberal agenda. Disgraceful treatment of its subjects by end 1 stars
5/01/06 scott millington excellent movie and idea, I hope it is seen by a wide audience 5 stars
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  DVD: 15-May-2007



Directed by
  Deborah Scranton

Written by

  Zack Bazzi
  Michael Moriarty
  Stephen Pink
  Duncan Domey
  Brandon Wilkins

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