Friday, December 20, 2013

Short Cut Movie Review: Dirty Wars

Short Cut Movie Review is normally less than 400 words, but in some cases may go slightly over. This is my attempt to keep writing about as many films as I see without getting bogged down with trying to find more to say. They are meant to be brief snapshots of my reaction to a movie without too much depth.

Anyone who is not, at the very least, deeply troubled by the American government’s sanctioning of targeted killings of people classified as enemy combatants, especially when some on the kill list are American citizens, does not have a very deep appreciation of or respect for the Constitution. Night time assassination squads of the recent past or drone attacks of the present don’t cause me to lose a great deal of sleep. I see them as part of a continuum of a new way of waging war. This is even while I do understand and recognize why some people have very serious objections. But when those targeted are citizens of this country and when there is no public evidence that the target has committed any crime, we’re essentially looking at a death sentence without due process, without any evidence brought to light, and without a jury finding him guilty.

In the documentary Dirty Wars, journalist Jeremy Scahill, who writes for The Nation, falls farther and farther down the rabbit hole as a war correspondent trying to find an explanation for a raid that left allegedly innocent Afghan villagers dead. His journey leads him over several years and countries (he spent time on the ground in Yemen investigating the drone attacks and in the USA doing the news show circuit), collecting more and more information about a secret government program that became very public after it was responsible for the death of bin Laden.

The things Scahill discovered and the pieces he put together paint a portrait of American military tactics that are deeply flawed and troubling. Director Rick Rowley doesn’t take the usual approach of interviewing Scahill and conducting his own filmmaking process to tell a story. Instead it’s more a document of what Scahill found while also providing his own narration. The effect is that Scahill walks a very thin line between journalist and subject. Yes, he is an investigative war journalist working a big story, but that he ostensibly tells the whole story himself and was also a kind of witness to so many of the events he reports on gives him a dual role in the film. It makes for a very pointed documentary film that maintains a strong focus without straying from the principal subject matter: how far off our moral compass has the United States drifted in the name of freedom?

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