Dir. Nick Broomfield . United Kingdom, 2007. 94 mins
Battle for Haditha dramatises one of the most notorious atrocities of the Iraq War, the alleged massacre of 24 Iraqis by American marines in the city of Haditha on November 19, 2005 , for which five marines stand trial at Camp Pendleton , California . Director Nick Broomfield presents the events from multiple sides, with the clear perspective that the war is a tragedy for all involved. It's just as clear that Iraqi civilians are paying the highest price.
There are no stars, and Broomfield's fictional films (this is his third) have had a lower profile than his small documentaries. Iraq seems to be an inexhaustible subject right now, and Haditha will battle for attention at the box office. Broomfield's meticulous reconstruction of the massacre which was triggered by the death of a US sergeant in a bomb attack should bring in fans of films like Paul Greengrass' United 93 and Bloody Sunday.
The film's major challenge in reaching an audience will be escaping the broad shadow of Brian De Palma's Redacted, which takes a similar approach to a similar subject and will get released first. As with other films about the Iraq war, Battle for Haditha is likely to see larger audience's in Europe than in the US, where the depiction of Marines as the murderers of civilians will clash uneasily with the national mantra to 'support our troops.'
Broomfield traces three narrative lines to their collision at the massacre. Marines with minimal training, who say in opening clips that they lack any personal stake in the war, are depicted as being like frat boys, speeding through the desert in Humvees to the screaming lyrics of songs by the rock band Ministry.
At the same time, unemployed former Iraqi soldiers from the country's disbanded army decide to make a few extra bucks from foreign Al Qaeda fighters for buying and detonating an Improvised Explosive Device (IED), with the intention of killing American soldiers.
The third narrative line follows the tragic fate of a family whose house the bombers force their way into in order to trigger the blast on a nearby road. When the bomb kills a popular US sergeant, the family is slaughtered by vengeful young marines.
US helicopters guided by commanders watching the manoeuvre on video camera add to the body count, slaughtering anyone near the site of the IED attack. (Eight US Marines on the ground were charged, after Time magazine exposed untruths in the official US account of the deaths. Charges were dropped against three of the accused.)
Comparisons will inevitably be made with De Palma's Redacted, which recreates the rape, murder and burning of a teenage Iraqi girl by US soldiers in Samarra in 2006 (and the subsequent official suppression of the truth) through the use of narrative devices that include a GI's video-diary and a fictional French news 'documentary.' Broomfield's movie lacks such flourishes, but is no less credible in its recreation of the soldiers' lives and language in improvised scenes.
Austere locations in Eastern Jordan and Mark Wolf's cinematography give Battle for Haditha a vivid realism. So too does the cast, particularly the young American non-professionals (some of them former Marines) who portray the untrained Marines in Haditha as callow and ignorant.
Iraq veteran Elliot Ruiz is a corporal who is haunted by guilt soon after shooting an innocent man, and Yasmine Hanani is the murder victim's pretty young wife, with no interest in politics, who survives in despair between the occupying Marines and the insurgents who terrorize the local population.
Lafayette Film Limited (UK)
Channel 4 (UK)
HanWay Films (UK)
(44) 207 290 0750
Falah Abraheem Flayeh
Duraid A. Ghaieb