Nothing but the troops
"Gunner Palace" puts the daily life, death-defying work and off-duty pursuits of American GIs in Baghdad on nonjudgemental display.
By DAVID N. BUTTERWORTH
Told from the unique vantage point of the American GIs who scour
the bombed-out streets of Baghdad looking for IEDs (improvised
explosive devices), performing nighttime raids of suspected bomb
makers and munitions distributors, or lounging around poolside at Uday
Hussein's bombed out pleasure palace (which gives the film its ironic
frontispiece), Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker's "Gunner Palace" is
a provocative documentary that attempts to tell it like it really is.
Unlike previous Iraq War stories that play like some 'rah 'rah
primetime blather with Rather or heavily edited news reportage about
the atrocities of armed conflict, here we have it firsthand from those
truly in the firing line, young men and women, many fresh from high
school, facing equally repetitive amounts of danger and boredom.
|Directed by: Petra Epperlein, Michael Tucker.|
Produced by: Petra Epperlein.
Cinematography: Michael Tucker.
Edited by: Petra Epperlein, Michael Tucker.
Related links: Official site | All of David N. Butterworth's reviews at Rotten Tomatoes
What does it feel like to be there, underappreciated and under
fire? "Gunner Palace" probably the first English-language film in
recent memory in which the military shorthand of the subtitles requires
subtitles provides the answers.
The soldiers interviewed share an upbeat sense of humor that's
counterbalanced by the underlying reality. Many speak the proud party
line when asked about their reasons for enlisting but almost all are
unified in their belief that most Americans don't have a clue as to
what they're going through each and every day. "The only people who'll
remember this is us," bemoans one private of the work-in-progress.
The conveyed threat of danger remains constant and imminent, as
Tucker's camera follows pre-dawn patrols through the bustling Baghdad
streets, where every benign-looking citizen could be an insurgent bent
on revenge, or a suicide bomber, or simply an unsympathetic Iraqi who
feels the time for the soldiers to leave has long since passed. Anti-
American sentiment is palpable, making the soldiers' day-to-day
operations that much harder. It's dangerous, unglamorous work, but the
grunts offset this by much on-camera silliness, including sarcastic
comments about government "subsidies," spontaneous jam sessions, and
fully engaged barbeque bashes to while away the mind-numbing downtime.|
Epperlein and Tucker make a deliberate point of not taking a
stance, politically, but instead allow those fighting for this shaky
freedom to do the talking. And the talk is tough (especially for a PG-
13 rated film), tongue-in-cheek, and ultimately very telling. What's
also telling is the fact that the "end of major combat" had been declared ten months
before the filmmaker's cameras first started to roll.
You'd never know it from the frank and fascinating footage that
unfolds in "Gunner Palace."
|MARCH 31, 2005|
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