The movie opens, with stentorian bass, on a quote:
"The rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug --- Chris Hedges"
As a Gulf War veteran, and as a person generally given to logical dissection of most things he hears on a daily basis, I found myself pausing the movie not thirty seconds in. The quote struck me as poetic, but claiming a truth based on logical fallacies which I could swear I'd heard before. And the whole movie was kicking off with it.
Then I remembered: this is the same essential argument used to attack VIDEO GAMES. It's the same claim that there is a reliance on the "rush of battle" (i.e., adrenaline) to be addictive, that games "train to kill", they "desensitize children to violence", and "are creating a generation of casual murderers". Hedges, here, sounds like a more poetic version of Jack Thompson, the notorious sleazebag lawyer who's spent most of the last two decades trying to sue companies that create video games.
I also had no idea who Chris Hedges was, so I wiki'ed his name. And that was an eye-opener.
One of the earliest anti-war activists, he used his pulpit at the New York Times to castigate the rest of the press for what he considered "cheerleading" in FAVOR of the Iraq War. He quit his post after being reprimanded...apparently for being delusional? Because I never heard any member of the press talking about how wonderful the war was. To the contrary, some reporters in the actual war zone got caught fabricating anti-US claims and lost their jobs over it.
Hedges also identified himself in a 2008 column as a "socialist" in contrast to what he sees as "ruthless totalitarian capitalism." Does the guy have any idea what the terms "ruthless" and "totalitarian" mean? This nutter's also authored a number of books...such as "American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America" and "Collateral Damage: America's War Against Iraqi Civilians".
Seriously? No, SERIOUSLY?
Was he high when he wrote that? It makes me wonder what the guy thinks about the Second World War, when we were in fact deliberately carpet-bombing civilians (following in the footsteps of the RAF) in order to "de-house the industrial working population" and other such euphemisms. And when we nuked Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Does Hedges think that Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman were heading up "America's War Against German and Japanese Civilians"?
* * * * *
Wow. All that from just the opening quote.
But now I think I have a very good idea of the take this movie is meant to project, and the reason it won Oscars from the folks in Hollywood.
Let's move on, shall we?
* * * * *
We open onto Baghdad, 2004: an American Explosive Ordnance Detachment group has found a 155mm artillery shell stuffed by insurgents into a load of garbage. The area is cordoned off and secured by other American units, the shell is examined and prepped for a controlled detonation, and then deliberately stupid things start to happen.
First a wheel comes off the wagon the remote-controlled robot is wheeling over to the bomb site. The staff sergeant in charge suits up in full bomb kit, walks out to the disabled cart and picks it up. Does he take the cart and wheel back to the safety zone so they can be fixed?
NO, HE DECIDES TO CARRY THE WAGON OVER TO THE ARTILLERY SHELL AND BEGINS MANUALLY SETTING UP THE CHARGES.
There is absolutely no real reason for this. After putting the wagon down near the shell, his job in the blast zone is DONE. They have a robot on site. The whole point of the wagon was to carry the charges so the robot could then place them, instead of endangering a human being. The whole scene is a setup to kill someone through sheer stupidity.
And of course, when the bomb is inevitably detonated, it's by a guy who simply argued his way through the cordon with a cell phone, and when spotted, the two guys who are supposed to be covering their buddy out by the bomb itself just start yelling and running at the guy with the phone.
Giving him plenty of time to key in the number and set it off.
There is absolutely nothing these guys did right...so of course their buddy dies, it's gruesome and tragic and the tone of the movie is set as presenting this sort of thing being "just another day in Iraq".
* * * * *
We then get to see the idiot staff sergeant's replacement: a guy whose first move on arrival is to take down anti-shrapnel coverings over the window so he can have some sunshine...and his argument is that "it won't stop a mortar round coming through the roof". Well no shit, Sherlock, and what're the odds of a direct hit by a mortar, as opposed to a near-miss which that covering is there to stop?
What a dumb-ass. I don't know this guy's name or rank yet, and I think he's an idiot replacing an idiot.
Very next scene, we've got another guy calling Humvees and APCs "tanks" (an insult to both the infantry that ride 'em, and the tankers who actually HAVE tanks, none of which are in the shot), and smartassing about how they'll be great to have "in case the Russians come, we can have a big tank battle". He bitches about how useless they are, and that "pretty much, if you're in Iraq, you're dead". Then smartasses about how he's "just trying to scare the new guy".
Same scene, in packed Baghdad traffic, the car ahead isn't moving fast enough (mainly because there's no place for the car ahead to GO), so the same guy throws a water bottle at it and yells at the locals. Apparently this took three tries to get right: there are three water-bottle impact marks in the dust on the car's rear window.
We're also given a countdown about how it's just 38 days until their outfit, Bravo Company, rotates out of Iraq.
* * * * *
Okay, so, not ten minutes into the film and we have a stupid death, a new guy who blows off basic safety in favor of sunshine, another moron who like to get rises out of his own team-mates and throws things at civilians, and Stock Foreshadowing 101.
So far, I'm very much unimpressed.
* * * * *
The stupid keeps rolling: this crew of four, alone in a Humvee, are to rendevous with another outfit that called something in. They reach the location, no one's there --- so of course they all bail out of the Humvee and stand around, one of them even taking a smoke break. They double-check the coordinates, it's correct, so they move down a little and quickly find the other team's Humvee --- with no one around, and no one responding to shouts of "friendly!".
Eventually, someone sticks a little American flag out of a door and waves it. No verbal response, just waving the flag --- and it turns out there are easily twice as many American soldiers hiding in that area as could possibly have fit in the one abandoned Humvee. They point to where a suspected Improvised Explosive Device is under a pile of rubble, and Mr. New Guy waves off the robot in order to go look himself.
So far Sanborn, the black guy in charge of this squad --- apparently the only black guy in the entire movie so far --- is also the only smart one. He points out when people are talking and acting stupid, and yet no one really listens to him despite his obvious seniority and experience.
So Mr. New Guy pops smoke "as a distraction" (all it ends up doing is cutting off visibility between his support and himself), blows off radio cues, ignores his squad leader, and just meanders on up towards where the bomb is supposed to be.
More idiocy: there's another Humvee with a squad blocking off traffic, but they're so close to the suspected bomb that if it goes off and it's a big one, they're probably dead. They're also useless at their job; a taxi driver runs the blockade easily and stops only just short of running over Mr. New Guy in his bomb squad armor. The aforementioned smoke is doing nothing but making it harder for Mr. New Guy's support, up the block, to even see what's going on and provide cover for him.
There's a standoff for a good couple of minutes while the soldiers shout at the driver, Mr. New Guy is pointing a pistol at him (even firing several warning shots), and he just SITS there. It's literally not until his windshield has been shot out and then the pistol is pressed to his forehead that he decides to back up.
"If he wasn't an insurgent, he sure is now." Yeah, I can see where Al Qaeda would want to recruit a guy who runs armed checkpoints and faces down warning shots without breaking a sweat. Definite suicide-bomber material...maybe he was auditioning for someone with a pair of binoculars. In any case, not an innocent bystanding civilian.
So yes, it turns out to be another 155mm artillery round, and Mr. New Guy simply gets on his belly and starts digging it out, fiddling with the wires, absolutely everything you NEVER do with an IED. Just digging it out: the thing could be sitting on a grenade with the pin pulled. Lift, BOOM. Classic old-style boobytrap.
* * * * *
Just had a conversation with my roomie, who's seen this before --- and he tells me that the rest of the film is Mr. New Guy hotdogging his way through the whole thing.
Okay. I don't need to see that.
Back to NetFlix it goes.