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The first thing I will say about this documentary is that regardless of
your thoughts on the current war in Iraq (or the current influx of
anti-war film propaganda), this is a movie you should see. The material
is presented in a non-partisan manner, allowing for the audience to
draw its own conclusions.
The film follows soldiers who call Gunner Palace home. Gunner Palace is one of Saddam's son's abandoned, bombed out, former residences. These soldiers are shown doing their duty on a daily basis, whether that means checking a carelessly tossed garbage bag to see if it's a possible explosive, or doing routine intelligence follow-up by raiding suspected bomb-makers' houses.
Some of the scenes are hard to watch, though the viewer is spared from any gratuitous violence or gore. There are scenes of soldiers spending time with local orphans and introducing them to the finer points of American pop culture, shots of suspected terrorists being brought in for interrogation and footage of local Iraqis being trained by (American) soldiers to defend their own homeland.
Most scenes are impactful simply for their ordinarinessthe boredom and repetition that come from keeping the peace and trying to rebuild a nation who, for the most part, doesn't want your help. While the work can be intense, it is also slow and steady, done by many who are just out of high school and outside of their hometown for the first time in their lives.
One soldier makes the remark that though he had idealized army life more as defending his own country on its own land, he is still proud to be a solider, doing the necessary work.
What you don't see on the television news is the soldier's perspective. We all talk about educating ourselves on what is happening in Iraq to our men and women in service; well, here is your chance.
This documentary is well worth seeing for one reason -- more than
anything I've seen about the Iraq war, it gives the American soldier's
point of view on fighting in Iraq. The news-bites and short glimpses of
the war given the American public on television are filtered down so
much by the time they get to your screen that you feel like you've seen
nothing and gained no insight about what is really going on there. If
you have a family member or friend fighting over there, you MUST see
this film to better appreciate their perspective.
What this film does not do, however, is provide any sort of an Iraqi perspective on the fighting. Granted, there are interviews with Iraqi informants employed by the American military and and several shots of suspected insurgents being detained, but there is no attempt to show the average Iraqi's point of view about the conflict. In other words, this documentary is a very subjective and one-sided perspective, but it is still very worthwhile.
I went to see it with a friend whose brother is currently fighting over there, and she said it was remarkable how well it captured the soldiers' off-time activities and philosophies about the fighting. Her brother and his buddies had made some video footage of their own and it was very similar in that regard. What the documentary doesn't show, and what her brother's video did show, was the dismembered bodies, the hellish and disorienting firefights, and the horrified, screaming civilians. One should not go into a screening of this film believing that they will experience the war or see what it's really like. One has to be there to understand.
This documentary centers around an army unit that has made its base at
one of Uday Hussein's "Pleasure" Palaces. Gunner Palace, essentially,
traces the lives of the members of the unit from the point of view of
Michael Tucker, a reporter embedded with the unit.
What works so well in this film is the simple fact that the viewer is getting to see the actual day to day activities of soldiers stationed in Iraq. It is fascinating and interesting, in this respect. What we are seeing is going on RIGHT NOW. It is unlikely the immediacy of Gunner Palace, and its impact, will be lost on anyone.
Unfortunately, aside from the main strength of the film, the video footage shot by Mr. Tucker, there seems to have been little thought in how to present the information. It is simply not edited well. It proceeds in a somewhat chronological order, but is hampered by an almost comical voice over, I assume done by Tucker, himself. It sounds odd and overly dramatic, even for some as dramatic as war. The narration just doesn't work.
The experiences of the soldiers themselves, are at times, very intriguing and include some amusing and often endearing raps performed by the soldiers about living in Iraq. It's clear that singing about the war, either with an electric guitar or a rap beat drummed out on a jeep is helping them get through the every day stresses they face. Presented more clearly and effectively, these raps could have given a nice structure to the film but seem more random and inserted without thought. And this is a shame, because there seems to have been a great deal of material the director could have drawn from. He was stationed there with them, for God's sake.
Also, somewhat inexplicably, the director/narrator, towards the end of the film, recounts his own experiences leaving Iraq and adjusting to home life again. Why I say this is inexplicable is because one would assume it would be the final moment of the documentary with maybe an epilogue, but rather the film shifts back to Iraq and continues on. It only adds confusion and disrupts the viewers ability to track the events and people appearing in Gunner Palace.
If only to see the faces of the soldiers and citizens in Iraq, as they are actually living, this film is worth seeing. It is a shame, however, that the footage Tucker shot didn't find it's way into more capable hands. Gunner Palace could have been even more compelling and affecting.
Gunner Palace, a documentary by Michael Tucker that follows the U.S.
Army's 2/3 Field Artillery for two months while the cope with
occupation duty in Iraq. The title is a conflation of the nickname of
the unit, The Gunners, and the fact that they have set up shop in a
bombed out palace of Uday Hussein.
I can't find it on the web, but I read a bio that the filmmaker served in the mid to late 80s, roughly the same time I was in the Army. I've latched onto the fact (and I hope it is true) because it explains the tone of the film. When I walked out, I told Jim, who had seen it with me, that this guy wanted to make an anti-war movie, but couldn't quite bring himself to do it.
What we see is as much cinema verities we are likely to get in this politically radioactive conflict. Tucker lets the young troops pretty much be young troops for the camera. They all to some extent (and one in particular a great deal) mug for the camera and utter their doubts, concerns and reveal their conflicts. There don't appear to be many people above the age of thirty, though I find it hard to believe that an entire battalion would be so comprised.
We also see soldier show great restraint in difficult situations. In one scene, a drugged out, dirty and bedraggled street urchin is delivered to a place where he will hopefully find some sort of care. The GIs are careful, almost solicitous of the child, demonstrating a great deal of tenderness when considered in context of the fact that they are in a city where they are compelled to carry heavy weapons and wear body armor.
There is a lot of very scraggly video of nighttime raids. Bear in mind that field artillerymen are trained to shoot high-explosives over the horizon and wreck stuff, not tool around a foreign capital like cops. Again, these young men show tremendous restraint as they round up people suspected of manufacturing roadside bombs and lobbing mortars at their temporary home.
You feel a sense of futility at times as you watch, but a 60 day snapshot of a difficult mission is going to do that. Some of the soldiers make statements that could be found on you garden variety Bush = Hitler website, and it broke my heart. What they are doing is noble and necessary given the condition of the world, though a 20 year old would be hard pressed to put it into proper context. It is a shame for anyone over there doing their best to not feel their due honor.
If you rabidly feel one should speak-no-evil of the war while we are at war, Gunner Palace will irk you or worse. I found it to be sufficiently truthful and sincere to be a must-see. Pro-war and anti-war folk will find inspiration, which may mean it was done just about right.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is the best doc to come out on the war yet. The mere fact the director lets the story come from the words of the soldiers sets it apart from *anything* that has come before it, and reminds me of what a terrible job reporters in television are doing at broadcasting the complexities of this war. I felt embarrassed after watching this, especially that I knew so little about the war (and I read a lot and assumed I knew a lot!). I saw GP at a sneak in Chicago at the beginning of this month (Feb 2005), and can tell you that it is the first film I have ever seen with a director present where no applause came after the film: it was that profound. After watching this, though, I am waiting for another film from Mr Tucker, a sort of companion film that is a follow-up on all the soldiers we meet. Well worth seeing several times. Get it at the theater if you can, because there is something morally powerful about sensing such closeness to the soldiers on camera.
I saw the movie in Toronto and again in Seattle. I have told so many people about this movie and the fact that it is multifaceted and encourages people from all walks of life, right or left to talk. The directors respect and honor the soldiers and have gone the extra mile to remind us not to forget about these men and women. The film does an amazing job showing us the real Iraq and the daily terror of waking up in a very scary place. I have encouraged my co-workers and friends to see this movie, to take time to read the diary on the gunnerpalace website and then sit down over coffee and discuss it. You won't be disappointed, you will laugh and you will cry.
I ended up liking this quite a bit, although paradoxically the movie's
greatest strength (an unwillingness to get wrapped up in the political
arguments pro/con on the Iraq war, a willingness more or less to keep
the vision down to the grunt's level) is also the movie's big weakness,
as it often seems one or two steps removed from raw footage (in fact
there's two false endings here, until finally the movie makers concede
that they don't know how to end the thing....and then end it). The
movie makers start the film suggesting this stuff should be on
television and I agree; this really should be a very special "Primetime
Live" or something.
That said, the footage is superb, the sense of a grunt's life very well evoked, with individual personalities nicely delineated. For what it is, essentially journalism in documentary film fancy-dress, it's very well done. The movie makers took some real risk; one only wishes more journalists would do the same. I also liked the melange of hip-hop, Islam, metal guitar, doper humor, Army briskness, pop culture references and the like that the film portrays: I have a pet theory that the twenty-first century will be characterized by the multi-cultural stew that GUNNER PALACE and the like portray. Worth checking out.
It really makes you think and want to talk about your own perspectives on the war.
Coming from Seattle, it was particularly moving to hear the director talk about the death of Ben Colgan. He was a local boy and well loved.
This is the most honest representation of Iraq I've seen yet. It must be good since so many other directors are using a similar format in upcoming documentaries. To learn more about the making of the movie, check out the Apple computers website, and Gunner Palace website. I would encourage you to read Michael's diary about the making of the movie, his emails home to his wife and daughter, and the emails from the troops and their families. They are moving.
Great movie, makes you think.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
One year ago I was on a plane taking me to Baghdad. Not as a soldier, but as a civilian who was going to work in the presidential palace in the midst of the green zone. This documentary took me back there, I didn't know those boys, but those were the same personalities and issues that I dealt with. This is truly a must-see film. I was only there a short time, but I urge everyone to see this, no matter how you feel about the war that we are fighting. This shows the real stuff, not what you see on the news, this was impartial, this was about the soldiers. This film is also helping me to talk about what I did see and how my experiences were different. A lot of time, for me, was spent in conversations about what we were going to do when we got back to the states. It was surreal being there. You have to stop thinking about how scary it is. The mortars and RPG's going off at night start to sound like thunder and so you convince yourself that you aren't in danger, but that's just to stay sane. I hated having to answer the question "weren't you scared?" Of course I was, but you can't let it consume you and this film showed that side of the soldiers. They have to let loose sometime. Watch the humvees, and see how the frame changes from when the director was there the first time and when he went back months later...its then that you realize how different the situation was. I left right before it got out of control with kidnappings and be-headings, and I felt guilty. I felt guilty because I was back here safe and sound and my friends were still there. Don't let this be a film that you see once and forget about, this is real life and there are still soldiers living this film and they don't know the ending yet, none of us do.
This movie through all its cursing, violence and drug references, this
movie takes the "BS" out of the media's broadcasts and throws you
straight into what little sense of "reality" one can get of war on the
big screen. It leaves the politics behind and puts you straight in the
middle of The Sandbox with the men and women who fight for this
country. This movie will probably have you laughing your tail end off
then in a somber silence in a matter of seconds. Political bias aside,
Gunner Palace is something every citizen of the world needs to see,
preferably before the next special report on what's "happening" in
All this said, I personally walked away with a greater sense of pride in my country's soldiers, in the eyes of everyone of the speakers in this movie I saw those of my friends who have been there or who are there. This movie has moved me in a way which I shall not soon forget. The look of sheer terror and hope all on the same face has a profound effect on one's soul.
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