Director: Nick Broomfield
Writer: Nick Broomfield
Cinematographer: Mark Wolf
by Jon Cvack
Battle of Haditha starts out generic, shot in that classic 00s handheld docu-drama style, where a bunch of battle hungry Marines listening to death metal, excited for the day’s work and anxious to exert their power and authority, head out into battle. To be honest, I wasn’t sure I’d make it through.
Some background: The story is based on actual events. The title is a bit misleading as the film doesn’t take place during the actual battle, but during its aftermath, where on November 19, 2005 an IED went off in the town of Haditha, recently captured after the Battle of Haditha. It struck the second of a two Humvee caravan, killing two Marines instantly. The remainder immediately retaliated against five Iraqi men, a taxi driver, and four teenagers who just so happened to be driving on the road. Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich was the leading officer. They received small arms fire from neighboring residences, which they then attacked, killing fifteen civilians total who offered no resistance as documented by cell phone photographs and video. Eight Marines were found guilty, with four, including Wuterich, facing unpremeditated murder. Eventually the charges against seven of the Marines - ex-Wuterich - were dropped. Wuterich was the only one to go to trial. He was charged with dereliction of duty, receiving a rank drop and pay cut, avoiding any jail time.
The story paints a portrait of Wuterich as an individual who was dealing with severe PTSD. He approaches a few of his commanding officers and finds little to no assistance with the problem. So begins a ticking time bomb. It's only a matter of time before Wuterich found himself in the wrong situation where his mental struggles would finally explode.
What's great about the film is that it also provides a glimpse into the story of the civilians responsible for the IED and their point of view. By this point in history, Iraq was completely unstable. With no funding or strategy for reconstruction many of the cities, including Haditha, faced increased recruitment from local civilians. With no functioning economy, there was little Iraqis could do for work. The government was gone, there was a barely functional police force, and the economy was in shambles. Thus, a man and his son are recruited by local insurgents to plant the device. We follow them aboard an apartment roof as they’re waiting to discharge the weapon. Director, Nick Broomfield, does an amazing job of showing an equal degree of fear on their end.
Counter to American Sniper's superficial Good Cowboys vs. Bad Indians narrative, Broomfield shows how everyone is affected by the War. From the civilians to the soldiers there is a chronic fear and rampant distrust. Once the bomb explodes, I couldn’t help feeling uncertain of I would do. Some might see this as vehemently anti-war “Left” film, believing that Wuterich deserved his punishment. I think others might see Wuterich as a victim of a situation that was beyond his control. He was dealing with severe mental issues and couldn’t find assistance. The Military should have provided help and instead allowed the disease to manifest when placed in the wrong situation. I equally hated and empathized with Wuterich. There was no black and white. If I was on edge, and found my brothers dead, knowing that the bomb could have been triggered by anyone around, all while dealing with crippling anxiety, I can’t say I wouldn’t have possibly made the same irrational choice. Yes, there are some who might have gotten a strange thrill from the kill. But I would even argue that this, too, is a mental problem. To lose all sense of objectivity and civility is not something that some just randomly lose and turn off. Should the soldiers have been charged with murder then? In the grand objective universe - sure, but that's not where these individuals reside. Wuterich was sentenced by a jury. They heard the stories. Many presumed that Wuterich was going to receive jail time for manslaughter. When the trial filing occurred in June 2011, all sentences were dropped. I can’t find anything about his mental state. Apparently his family denies that he ever was involved in the killing. That’s where it doesn’t sit right to me.
This movie is an amazing snapshot of the Iraq War’s history - where we were as country, where the Iraqis were, and how the soldiers dealt with it. There’s no clear line here. I'd put it up there with any of the recent narratives which have come out - Zero Dark Thirty, Lone Survivor, and exceeding American Sniper.
BELOW: A great interview with director Nick Broomfield
Thoughts on films, old and new
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