There’s a slogan in the anti-war movement: “Bring the troops home, now!” After seeing this, you might question that. A fly-on-the-wall account of soldiers in Iraq, we meet dozens of interchangeable 20 year olds billeted at one of Uday Hussein’s conquered palaces. They hang out by the pool, bored. And then they go to work, blasting down doors, dragging shocked suspects over to Abu Ghraib prison. In between they act like 20 year olds with a whole lot of testosterone bouncing around. I kept comparing and contrasting “Gunner Palace” with two films. I noted the similarities to Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now,” mainly is the presentation of chaos, quagmire and how this could result in violence at any moment (I kept waiting for the scene when they’d shoot up all the people in the fishing boat.) In tone, I kept flashing on Altman’s “M*A*S*H.” A group of bored, frightened people away from home, caught up in an international conflict that has nothing to do with them on a personal level. But in Altman’s film there is an undercurrent of intelligent, world-weary emotion — a wounded desire for peace and a hatred toward power, fascism and evil. There is none of that sort of realization on display here with the subjects of “Gunner Palace.” Ultimately, the fault lies with the filmmaker; after thirty minutes, the film becomes something of a bore, despite soldiers condemning us for watching this film some day in our living room and “forgetting us and not understanding.” The filmmakers present us only with music video, not emotion. One of the few moments when a soldier does speak of his thoughts on the war, he brings up, unironically, the old chestnut of “just following orders.” It seems like everyone is miserable, but when pressed, there are a lot of puffed-out chests and declarations of love for the army and being a soldier. What’s weird is that I think Tucker and Epperlein wanted to make an anti-war film. With so much to work with, they chose the least compelling subjects for that arguement.
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