Directed by: Deborah Scranton || Produced by: Robert May, Steve James
Starring: Zack Bazzi, Michael Moriarty, Stephen Pink
Music by: Norman Arnold || Cinematography by: P.H. O’Brien, Peter Ciardelli || Editing by: Steve James, Leslie Simmer || Country: United States || Language: English
Running Time: 97 minutes
Possibly my favorite of the documentaries made about the recent conflicts in the Middle East, The War Tapes is unique in the fact that it has great pacing, culminating in an epic climax that will leave your heart pounding. Genuine elements of real-life pacing (without a script) are exceedingly rare and difficult to capture on film, but the War Tapes does just that. And I haven’t even mentioned the valuable insight into the War on Terror that this doc provides. ‘The War Tapes’ is truly a one-of-a-kind experience.
What makes TWT work so damn well is that it builds a story on real life experiences that have a complete beginning, middle, and end. We are introduced to three soldiers who are called to serve in the tumultuous Iraq War. Starting just before their preparations to leave the US, we get to know what our three characters are like before the war and what makes them tick. We are introduced to their families and units and get a sense of what their lifestyle is like. All of the men were good choices for leading the viewer through the campaign, as each soldier has a memorable personality and provides insightful (and oftentimes, quite witty) commentary on the day-to-day happenings. What’s more, the fact that all three of the soldiers have notably different personalities and opinions allows us to get a wide range of analysis on the Iraq War campaign, and each soldier draws their own conclusion about the clusterfuck. Instead of setting out to document the Middle Eastern conflict with a predetermined agenda, the film-makers made the smart decision to give us multiple vantage points from which to observe the complexities of the Iraq invasion.
The footage itself is a combination of hand-held camerawork courtesy of our National Guard volunteers and post-war interviews. These scenes are well edited so that every situation is explained as it progresses and you always know what is going on.
The incredible thing is that all the footage is arranged in a well-paced manner that makes each conflict and conversation more memorable and easier to understand. Frequent comic relief in the form of soldiers’ wisecracks and surprisingly insightful observations go a long way toward lightening the mood and helping to relate to each of the soldiers. There are plenty of gruesome and hard-to-stomach events, to be sure, but none of these feel forced, unnecessary, or heavy-handed. It is quite a journey, overall, and it builds to powerfully intense climax that leaves you on the edge of your seat. The War Tapes is easily one of the best, if not the best, Middle East war documentary that I have seen thus far.
+ The editing and arrangement of the National Guardsmen’s video diaries and interviews are top notch. The story of each soldier is interesting, exciting, and highly informative.
+ The personalities of the three soldiers are some of the film’s highlights, with their senses of humor being particularly memorable.
+ The final shootout is a tense, white-knuckle experience.
? Sgt. Zack Bazzi’s rant in the Humvee is just priceless.