Before I begin my review I'm going to give you all my biases up front - I'm an American, I'm a Marine, and I served one tour in Anbar Province in 2007 with a rifle company. Many of my seniors served in the Haditha area and told many-a-tale about that awful place. Having gotten that out of the way, I really wanted to like this movie from the get-go. It obviously draws its inspiration from one of my favorite films, the Gillo Pontecorvo classic "The Battle For Algiers
", where many of the characters (including the screenwriter) were insurgents in the conflict rather than professional actors. I've been pretty disgusted with the Iraq films and TV shows that have come out over the past few years. Shooting in the California desert with a bunch of Mexicans dressed up like Arabs is never going to cut the mustard. Iraq has its own look and feel, and the Iraqis have their own style, even compared to the rest of the Arab world.
So I was really excited when I read that "The Battle of Haditha" was shot in Jordan, which is about as close to Anbar as you can get without crossing the border, and used real Iraqis and former-US military personnel. I also liked that Broomfield let them ad-lib most of their lines, giving them a feel of authenticity that no scriptwriter ever can. Broomfield definitely sets standards that every subsequent Iraq film is going to have to live up to. I also liked the controversial topic - there's a reason counterinsurgencies are called "dirty wars" and the Iraqis definitely do an amazing job portraying the mixed loyalties and emotions of many Iraqis as they seek to make some sense out of what was - for many Sunnis - an occupation.
Unfortunately, the movie's portrayal of the Marine Corps runs into a brick wall that nearly sinks the whole picture. While I enjoyed Elliot Ruiz's haunted squad leader, none of the other characters looked or sounded like real Marines. In fact, many of them seemed to be acting out popular stereotypes of Marines based on recruiting commercials and "Full Metal Jacket
" or "Jarhead
", which is almost nothing like what they really are. With the exception of Ruiz, there was almost no character development among the Marines, no explanation of how an infantry unit operates (which is crucial to understanding why the Haditha killings played out the way they did). Broomfield also falls into the trap of using actors in their mid-to-late twenties to portray a bunch of kids fresh out of high school. One of the guys I went to Iraq with was born in 1989 and was 12 years old when 9/11 happened.
Speaking from my experience, the Marines in "The Battle of Haditha" look like a third-rate Iraqi Army unit fresh out of boot camp. They do not know how to: hold their weapons, conduct mounted or dismounted patrols, clear a room, tactically question Iraqis, maintain cover and concealment, return fire, or conduct a squad attack on the enemy. If such things don't concern you, then disregard what I've said, but this is a point of professional pride for me and I really wish Broomfield had been able to get a bunch of real grunts for his actors. When I tried to get my company to watch this as a training film, the other Marines honed right in on this problem and were worried that some of our new-joins would get the wrong impression of how to behave in a combat zone.
Maybe I'm the last person who should be reviewing this - maybe this film was made to explain what Iraq is like to people who have never been there. If that's your opinion, go see it. But it was not made for Iraq veterans. If that's what you want to see, I recommend the HBO "Generation Kill
" series, which gets more of the technical details right.