The War Tapes Reviews

"Riveting! Compelling!... Gives a stronger taste of the Iraq war experience than any film I can remember."
- Stephen Holden, THE NEW YORK TIMES


"The first indispensable Iraq documentary."
- Owen Gleiberman, ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY



"Remarkable. Very moving. Very real."
- Mark Bowden, Author of Black Hawk Down


"A film of rare honesty and power that exposes, from the eyes of those who fight the war, the revolting and soul-numbing world of combat."
- Chris Hedges, author of the bestselling and National Book Critics Circle Award winning War is the Force that Gives us Meaning


"the single best document (book, film or article) you could see" on the war in Iraq
- John Fisher Burns, the New York Times' Baghdad bureau chief and two-time Pulitzer Prize winning foreign correspondent

| BBC NEWS | HOLLYWOOD REPORTER |
| ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY | THE NATION |
| NEW YORK MAGAZINE | NEW YORK NEWSDAY |
| NEW YORK POST | THE NEW YORK TIMES 1 |
| THE NEW YORK TIMES 2 |
| SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE | SCRIPPS NEWS |
| WASHINGTON POST | WASHINGTON TIMES |
| THE WEEKLY STANDARD |


Film sees war through soldiers' eyes

Richard Allen Greene, BBC NEWS

Premiering in a week when America struggles with the notion that its marines may have massacred civilians in Iraq, the film neither romanticises nor demonises its three main characters: Specialist Michael Moriarty, Sgt Steven Pink and Sgt Zack Bazzi.
The soldiers in the film have families and fears, senses of humour and a capacity for anger.
At least one, Spc Moriarty, describes himself as deeply patriotic - but the men are not wide-eyed innocents about their mission in Iraq.
They proclaim cynically that the war is about making money for Kellog Brown & Root (KBR), the military contractor which is a subsidiary of a company once run by Vice-President Dick Cheney.
Or they say it is about oil - adding that, since the United States needs oil, that is as it should be.
Despite the soldiers' grousing about the reasons for the war, the film itself neither supports nor condemns it.
That is as director Deborah Scranton wanted it to be - and as the men involved insisted.

Click here to read the rest of the review at BBC.co.uk

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COMBAT ROCK

Owen Gleiberman, ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY

Even documentaries program you to expect payoffs. The War Tapes, a powerfully distressing film in which director Deborah Scranton weaves together first-person video footage shot by three National Guardsmen in Iraq in 2004, roughly a year after the invasion began, gives us a literal soldier's-eye view of the current U.S. military nightmare: desolate rides through Baghdad and Fallujah, accompanied by the occasional explosion and always -- always -- the fear that the next IED will be the one that hits you. The soldiers speak movingly of that anxiety. It's almost intrinsic to the nature of movies that we begin to wait for that horrific event, the awful ''climax'' to the soldiers' dread.

Click here to read the rest of the review at EW.com

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The War Tapes

Frank Scheck, HOLLYWOOD REPORTER

Fortunately for filmmaker and viewer, all three are compelling characters who provide vivid human dimensions to their experiences. Pink reads provocative excerpts from his journal to accompany much of his footage. Bazzi, who also served in Bosnia and Kosovo, is a lover of travel who decries the cultural ignorance of his fellow soldiers. Moriarty, who volunteered shortly after Sept. 11, is deeply concerned with protecting American honor even as he criticizes the war.
What might prove surprising to some is the cynical opinion held by each of the soldiers as to the political and economic motivations for the war.
Although much of what is shown details the tedious day-to-day routine of military service, there is no shortage of horrific footage on display. Also exposed is the increasingly hardened attitudes adopted by the soldiers as they go through their bloody paces. "I don't smell burning dead guy," one tentatively comments during a foray.

Click here to read the rest of the review at HollywoodReporter.com

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All's Fair in Love and War

David Edelstein, NEW YORK MAGAZINE

The War Tapes portrays day-to-day life in a world without a compass. It's marked by distant explosions ("Every time you hear a boom, somebody's going to heaven") and convoys' rushing to the sites of flaming wrecks with charred corpses of Iraqi civilians and bits of debris from lost lives--like the bicycle mounted on the top of a blackened car. A soldier carves a wooden pistol because he's not allowed to carry a real one. Guardsmen express irritation with the Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root, which runs the American stores and charges hefty amounts for paper plates of bad food. Driving through the desert, Moriarty asks a fellow Guardsman about the aims of the war, and the man dutifully recites something about creating a freer and more stable Middle East. He adds he'd also like to buy everybody in the world a puppy. Instead of seeing puppies, though, we get pieces of a young woman who made the mistake of crossing a road on which American trucks barrel recklessly along. A soldier says he watched, helpless, as she was knocked unconscious by one truck and then turned into--indisputably--hamburger by several more. The hamburger description isn't his; he's weeping that his people just killed someone they were there to protect.
In interviews back home, Scranton just scratches the surface of the trauma the soldiers are experiencing--in part out of respect for men who have bared so much already, in part because not a lot needs to be said. See The War Tapes. Maybe this picture can be worth a thousand lives.

Click here to read the rest of the review at NewYorkMetro.com

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War, as shot by soldiers

Jan Stuart, NEW YORK NEWSDAY

Deborah Scranton's upsetting Iraqi diary "The War Tapes" is the apex of two converging movements in documentary filmmaking: the chronicles of a war that shows no signs of going away and movies that saddle participants with the responsibility of recording the event at hand themselves.
The thinking behind this latter concept, presumably, is that everyone has a Michael Moore inside them just waiting to get out, and that no one is better qualified to document a barrel ride off Niagara Falls than the person screaming his way through it. This experiment in artistic buck-passing has resulted in the negligible (the blinding rock show footage shot by concertgoers in "The Beastie Boys: I Shot That!") and the substantial (the eloquent photographs taken by the children of Calcutta prostitutes in "Born into Brothels").
The concept delivers tenfold for sheer authenticity and immediacy in "The War Tapes," which telescopes a year of Operation Iraqi Freedom through the lenses of three National Guardsmen who agreed to film their experiences from Fort Dix to battle and back home again.
How does one shoot a war and shoot a rifle at the same time? Hard to say, but Scranton's uniformed cameramen give us an insider's perspective that transcends the mediated realism of "Saving Private Ryan" or the evening news. A soldier's camera bounces and ducks from the agitated insides of a Hummer as it plows through a hail of bullets or races toward the surprise clouds of car bombs detonating a few yards away. An incinerated body slumps from a shredded vehicle. A voice shouts "Sgt. Smith is down! Sgt. Smith is down!"

Click here to read the rest of the review at Newsday.com

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WAR'S VIDEO DIARY

Kyle Smith, NEW YORK POST

Seeing things from the soldiers' helmets and dashboards drives home the full furious confusion of war. We don't know who's shooting or what direction the fire is coming from, whether we should shoot that guy or whether he's our bunkmate. Yet one of the most disturbing moments the troops face makes even less sense than war: An Iraqi girl inexplicably runs into a speeding convoy and is ripped to shreds.
The dialogue shames Hollywood screenwriters. "Today's Sporting Chance Tuesday," says Sgt. Steve Pink, a carpenter who wants to be a writer. "We like to give the insurgents a chance, so today we ride with the windows down." Reading from his diary, Pink is more revealing: "Today was the first time I shook a man's hand that wasn't attached to his arm."
Most of the Iraq documentaries nudge us into believing that the war's a disaster and that even the troops know it, though they're rubes for having believed in their country in the first place. The reality is more complex. Soldiers are both extremely patriotic and extremely cynical; their internal compasses spin madly from touching altruism to kill-'em-all nihilism.

Click here to read the rest of the review at NYPost.com

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'The War Tapes' Provides a Soldier's-Eye View of the Days Over There

A.O. Scott, THE NEW YORK TIMES

"The War Tapes," winner of the prize for best documentary at the Tribeca Film Festival last month, proceeds from a simple, powerful idea. The filmmakers gave small digital video cameras to three members of the New Hampshire Army National Guard shortly before they were deployed to Iraq in early 2004, and invited them to record their experiences over there.
The film that the men shot, supplemented by home-front interviews and images captured by other soldiers, has been edited into a moving, complicated movie that illuminates, with heartbreaking clarity, some of the human actuality of this long, confusing war.
Like Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein's "Gunner Palace," released last year, and James Longley's "Iraq in Fragments," shown at Sundance in January, "The War Tapes" declines to argue a position, preferring to concentrate on the fine grain of daily life in combat. Whatever your opinion of the war -- and however it has changed over the years -- this movie is sure to challenge your thinking and disturb your composure. It provides no reassurance, no euphemism, no closure. Given the subject and the circumstances, how could it?
By the end of "The War Tapes," which was directed by Deborah Scranton, you feel remarkably close to the three guardsmen, who represent themselves with a candor occasionally checked by flinty New England reticence. Specialist Mike Moriarty, at 34 the oldest of them, describes himself as a super-patriot and says he was eager to go to Iraq to exact some payback for the 9/11 attacks. By the time he returns home to his wife, two young children and a blue-collar job, his views have changed a little. While his support for the war has not wavered, he notes that he hated every minute he spent in Iraq and would not go back "if they paid me half a million dollars."

Click here to read the rest of the review at NYTimes.com

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Cascading Inconvenient Truths

David Carr, THE NEW YORK TIMES

THERE have been all sorts of pronouncements in the past week about the ambitions and absurdities of the Iraq war, but nothing in newspapers, on cable or even out there in the blogosphere matched the impact of a deft little turn in the middle of "The War Tapes," a documentary about -- and filmed by -- a New Hampshire National Guard Unit stationed in Iraq that opened in theaters two weeks ago.
Specialist Mike Moriarty is filming his squad leader, Staff Sgt. Kevin Shangraw, as they bounce along in a Humvee. He asks his leader for his take on the broader mission, and Sergeant Shangraw comes straight off the dome with a government-issue rationale.
"Well, I think it's a fantastic opportunity for the Iraqis to establish a new history in the country and be able to be a free and democratic society, which in turn should stabilize the whole Middle East and create a freer and more stable earth as we know it."
"Tell me how you really feel," an unseen Specialist Moriarty prompts.
Sergeant Shangraw waits a beat as the bleak landscape flies by in the window before answering.
"Then, after that happens, maybe we can buy everybody in the world a puppy."
It is mordantly effective filmmaking. "The War Tapes" has the stock characters of any war movie -- the gung-ho guy, the wiseacre, the bookish one -- but the fact that they are actually fighting the war not only gives them a perspective on events most of us are seeing through a straw, but also a ferocious credibility. The movie is less diatribe than a vérité tour of the vagaries of war in general and this one in particular. (Much of the unit's mission involves guarding convoys of supply trucks from Halliburton, driven by highly paid civilians.)

Click here to read the rest of the review at NYTimes.com

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When Soldiers Shoot a War

Kevin McCarthy, THE NATION

From the opening sequence, the audience is confronted with a visceral experience of battle unlike any reporting from Iraq to date. The frame in these scenes resembles something like a first-person video game--the weapon extended before us as we flinch from the sound of enemy fire and feel the vibrations of the rapid-fire weapons. But it is clear that this is no game.
The War Tapes offers a different view. Televised reports from Iraq by mainstream media--a firefight or the mop-up of an insurgent bombing--enter the scene from the outside. Often the footage has little to do with the accompanying narrative by an anchor in the studio or by a reporter on the scene. They provide the basic facts--estimates of the number of killed or injured and speculation from the usual suspects on who might be responsible--but little about the battle itself and its impact on those fighting it. Often televised scenes from Iraq have nothing to do with the topic under discussion, reducing human tragedy to B-roll for cable commentators grinding political axes.
The War Tapes radically changes the frame, drawing the audience inside the firefights, bringing them close to the car bombings and IED explosions. We are insulated voyeurs no longer--and the truth is sometimes hard to take. When a soldier describes letting a dog eat the flesh of a dead Iraqi insurgent, there is nothing to feel but revulsion, unredeemed by his explanation that he is trained to kill, not to empathize. Balancing that, when a fast-moving Humvee strikes and kills an innocent Iraqi woman, a soldier envisions his mother on the street among the crumbled cookies, and there is nothing to feel but sorrow--for her and for him.

Click here to read the rest of the review at theNation.com

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'The War Tapes': Three Soldiers on Shifting Sands

Mick LaSalle, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

There's a lot to process when watching "The War Tapes," and that's probably why the documentary gets even better a few days later. The film is the product of a successful experiment to make a war documentary in an entirely new way. Filmmaker Deborah Scranton could have embedded herself in Iraq and followed a handful of guys for a few months. Instead, she gave some New Hampshire National Guardsmen digital cameras, had them record whatever they wanted, and then she edited the results -- more than 1,000 hours distilled into a 97-minute film.
The results are revelatory, and yet not easily encapsulated or defined. On the most basic level, we get to see the war. We see what Fallujah looks like (there's very little of it left). We see an insurgent bomb go off, out of absolutely nowhere. We see a street battle, and later we see the aftermath, of the guys back in their tents marveling at almost getting killed. One guardsman describes it as "the most helpless feeling" he's ever had, to go to sleep every night worrying that he won't wake up.
But the movie goes much deeper than that. At its best, "The War Tapes" serves as an exploration of the soldier mentality -- or at least of the mentality of the folks who'd volunteer to go to Iraq. The guardsmen film themselves, have their friends film them and, in turn, film their friends. Because they're speaking either to themselves or comrades, they speak with a candor no documentarian could have captured. And though they try to present themselves as they'd like to be perceived, they inevitably, through stress and the sheer number of hours on camera, present themselves in total.
Each viewer will see the movie, and these guardsmen, in a different way. One inescapable impression is that the impulse to sign up and go to Iraq seems an impulse to escape moral complexity and life disappointment. It's always personal. Patriotism may enter into it, but mainly as a sanctification, a story to tell oneself.

Click here to read the rest of the review at SFGate.com

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Forget politics, 'The War Tapes' is about the soldiers

Betsy Pickle, SCRIPPS NEWS

There's only one side anyone can take while watching "The War Tapes" _ the soldiers'.
Forget politics. Forget grandstanding. Forget motivations. "The War Tapes" makes Operation Iraqi Freedom real as no other documentary or news coverage has. It captures the impact war has on soldiers and their loved ones, both as it's happening to them and after they're out of its path.
You know the old war movies in which stoic men deadpan their way through hair-raising adventures? That's part of what makes "The War Tapes" crackle, only this time the action and quips aren't scripted.
...
The Guardsmen make clear-eyed comments about the war, what they're doing and how they're doing it. The why _ in regard to U.S. involvement in Iraq _ is not such a big deal to them. Pink and Moriarty support it; Bazzi, who served in the U.S. Army in Kosovo and Bosnia, has a professional soldier's attitude about it.
Their tapes from Iraq are gripping snapshots of the strangeness and terror of war. The material shot after the men return home _ Moriarty to his wife and young children, Pink to his girlfriend and Bazzi to his mother _ is even more affecting.
Their tapes from Iraq are gripping snapshots of the strangeness and terror of war. The material shot after the men return home _ Moriarty to his wife and young children, Pink to his girlfriend and Bazzi to his mother _ is even more affecting.
Scranton's approach is as objective as it possibly could be, and viewers are likely to hold on to their own opinions about America's presence in Iraq. But "The War Tapes" expresses something that's rarely voiced so clearly: No one who goes to war comes home the same person.

Click here to read the rest of the review at ScrippsNews.com

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'The War Tapes': Three Soldiers on Shifting Sands

Ann Hornaday, WASHINGTON POST

Is it too much to ask that "The War Tapes," a riveting, audacious new documentary about the Iraq war, be required viewing in every classroom and living room in America? Or at least the Oval Office?
Make no mistake: "The War Tapes," in which three National Guard soldiers deliver graphic first-person accounts of their year serving in Iraq, is not an overtly political film. It appears to grind no partisan ax, nor score either red or blue points. Whether viewers support the war or not -- or find themselves somewhere in the mushy middle -- "The War Tapes" won't fit comfortably into the pigeonholes of their preconceptions. What it does do, with grim and often gruesome honesty, is show the realities of war to a public that has been largely shielded from its cost.
...
Profane, contemptuous and embittered, the filmmakers offer a complex group portrait of men whose own views of what they're doing in Iraq are constantly shifting, often in dizzyingly contradictory ways. The most complicated of the three is Bazzi, the Lebanon-born soldier who speaks Arabic, reads the Nation, is one of the few in his unit who didn't vote for President Bush and who may be the most gung-ho soldier of them all. As capable of empathy toward Iraqis as he is of offhanded misanthropy, Bazzi presents an unsettling, finally mysterious figure of both dedication and almost existential skepticism.
As commendable as "The War Tapes" is for giving voice to those on the front lines who are often voiceless, it's just as important for what it leaves out in the form of cant or bias. The film's director, Deborah Scranton, has scrupulously made sure that some questions remain unanswered. The most looming one, of course, is why U.S. troops are in Iraq in the first place, and each man comes to terms with that issue in his own way. Maybe one of their National Guard colleagues puts it best at the beginning of "The War Tapes," when a camera eavesdrops on a stateside telephone conversation with his family. "Daddy's gotta go to work," he says resignedly. "Why? Just because."

Click here to read the rest of the review at WashingtonPost.com

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Shooting war

Christian Toto, WASHINGTON TIMES

The left-leaning documentarians have had their say on the Iraq war. Filmmaker Deborah Scranton is letting the men in combat have a crack at it.
"The War Tapes" arms three soldiers with cameras so they can file their own reports from the front lines. The results -- spanning from the soldiers' conflicted patriotism to their near universal cynicism for the task at hand -- defy conventional expectations.
Yes, the camerawork is often shaky and incoherent, but Miss Scranton spit polishes the footage without sacrificing the meat of the matter.
It's the umpteenth variation on "war is hell," but it's a message delivered without the usual filters.
That's not to say there aren't agendas at play, but the inherent decency of the U.S. soldier remains the film's unflagging core.

Click here to read the rest of the review at WashingtonTimes.com

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The real Iraq finally comes to the screen.

Michael Fumento , THE WEEKLY STANDARD

IN ANNOUNCING The War Tapes winner of the "best documentary feature" at the Tribeca film festival in New York in May, judge and documentary filmmaker Ken Burns labeled the film a "remarkably clear-eyed view of what's going on there." I've been over there doing my own war taping and he's right. The movie is a desperately-needed antidote to the mainstream media-produced baloney broadcast daily into our homes that rarely includes anything but (1) bombs exploding in Baghdad; (2) bombs exploding in Baghdad; and above all (3) bombs exploding in Baghdad.
Critics have described the film as "disturbing," "humbling," and "truly a grunt's eye view of the war." Believe it or not, that last one was criticism. It came from leftist screenwriter-director Nora Ephron. The views of grunts and embedded reporters are worthless, Ephron says, because they're "too close" to the war. Better, apparently, to do all the reporting out of Baghdad's Al-Rashid Hotel or--better still--from ivory towers. (Stunningly, Ephron also thinks embedding was an evil idea dreamed up for this war. Ever hear of Ernie Pyle, Nora?)
But The War Tapes simply shows the war as it is, for better or worse, primarily through the eyes of three apparently quite average National Guard soldiers. (Two are actually pudgy, unlike the lean, mean fighting machines I was surrounded with on my two deployments.) Producer Deborah Scranton gave them, and other soldiers from the New Hampshire National Guard's 172nd Infantry Regiment deploying for a year to Camp Anaconda in the Sunni Triangle, mini-DV camcorders. With these they show the boredom, the horror--and yes, the humor--of men given the nasty job of accompanying primarily food convoys past IEDS, RPGs, machine-gun ambushes, and worst of all, suicide car bombers.

Click here to read the rest of the review at WeeklyStandard.com

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