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    Gunner Palace

    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.


    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.

    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
    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.

    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.

    Gunner Palace  
    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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