Gunner Palace

If the film does succeed in doing anything, it will likely be as an unofficial recruitment video for the Army. Young underprivileged adults are going to see these images of their contemporaries partying poolside while living in one of Uday Hussein’s palaces (albeit a somewhat bombed out), putting on a makeshift golfing green, playing their guitars and video games and surfing the web, and they’re going to want to sign up. The Army looks like a lot of fun, and it’s a lot better than sitting around someplace like Colorado Springs doing nothing with your life besides being a druggie, as did one young soldier Tucker follows for most of the film. Not that there isn’t any danger in the streets of Adhamiya, the segment of the capital city where the palace is location, considered to be the most volatile area in the region. The soldiers have to deal with roadside bombs (called Improvised Explosive Devices, or IEDs), Rocket Propelled Grenades, snipers and things that go boom in the dark of night.

However, it’s not the violence in war which Tucker wants to define these soldiers. He wants us to get to know these men and women as humans first and foremost, which is understandable. But if we are rarely shown the war side of this war these soldiers are fighting, despite what we the audience believes we know from what we see on the nightly news, the emotional context of seeing them handle themselves in their off hours is lessened. Several of the soldiers we are introduced to are rappers and slam poets, who have some fascinating stories in their lyrics and free verse, which give a much better glimpse into the hell they have to deal with on a daily basis than anything we witness firsthand through the camera lens. Tucker’s most unfortunate misstep, which shows he might not have as good of a grasp of his footage as he hoped, comes shortly after the end of his first tour of duty with the 2/3, when the filmmaker learns of the death of one of the soldiers with whom he had an affinity for, who was killed by an IED. The entire final section of the film is supposed to be weighted by this revelation, except Tucker’s friendship with the young man barely made it into the final cut of the film, so his death, while extremely tragic, does not resonate as strongly as it could have.

I do not mean to belittle Tucker’s courage as a civilian going into the middle of a war zone to get these stories, or the effort he put into making this film. At times, it is a very powerful film, and one that does deserve to be seen by as many people as possible. It’s just that I cannot help but believe a stronger, more cohesive story lies within the footage that did not make it into the movie. There are a few others concerns about editorial choices, mostly involving loud music being on the soundtrack as we’re supposed to be hearing gunfire, leaving the audience to wonder if the rat-a-tat blasting from the surround speakers are AK-47s or snare drums, but for the most part Tucker gives us a far deeper look into the Iraqi war, and the young people who put their lives on the line every day, than we are likely to ever see on any television news magazine.

Rating: B-