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They know too well how war alters lives

The eye-opening `The War Tapes' details the toll a year spent fighting in Iraq took on three National Guardsmen.

October 13, 2006|Mark Olsen | Special to The Times

Whenever the topic of the war in Iraq comes up most people go out of their way to say that they "support the troops," whatever that's supposed to mean. "The War Tapes," arguably the most vital and eye-opening documentary yet made regarding the United States' current military entanglement, follows three National Guardsmen from New Hampshire as they are deployed to Iraq for one year. The film shows its support for the troops in a most literal way -- by providing some sense of what it must be like to actually be there, on the ground, in the midst of war.

Director Deborah Scranton, working closely with producer Robert May and producer-editor Steve James, whittled through more than 1,000 hours of footage to create the film. Cameras were put directly in the hands of a few soldiers just before they were sent to Iraq in March 2004, and so the film has an immediacy and intimacy that is alternately fascinating and frightening.

What the soldiers find overseas is largely confusion and frustration. Confusion as to what they're doing there and how they're meant to go about their missions, largely protecting convoys run by private contractors, and frustration as to whether they're accomplishing anything. The film acutely captures the topsy-turvy uncertainty of life during wartime, where there's Burger King and land mines and Pizza Hut and snipers.

By allowing the men to speak for themselves, in moments in which they are unguarded both physically and emotionally, the film conveys the punishing toll of being a solider. Each of the three men featured initially comes across as a certain type of person, and each is seen at times behaving in a manner that seems utterly contradictory to their natural character. It is as if the pressure of war has driven them completely outside themselves.

All three men seem irrevocably changed by their experiences in Iraq, and yet they are not broken. There is a bittersweet sense of hope as they attempt to readjust to their lives back home, struggling to pick up where they left off with loved ones and jobs and plans for the future. As one soldier, the Lebanese-born Zack Bazzi, says, "The only bad thing about the Army is you can't pick your war."


`The War Tapes'

MPAA rating: Unrated

A SenArt Films release. Director Deborah Scranton. Producers Robert May, Steve James. Editors James, Leslie Simmer. Running time:

1 hour, 37 minutes.

Exclusively at Landmark's NuArt, 11272 Santa Monica Blvd., West L.A. (310) 281-8223.

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