The Iraq war films, they keep on coming, and with the arrival of “Battle for Haditha,” this under-seen collection obtains one of its finer dramas.
British filmmaker Nick Broomfield, known for making self-assertive, celebrity-oriented documentaries such as “Kurt and Courtney” and “Biggie and Tupac,” performs a successful shift in gears with this verité-style consideration of the headline-making incident in which U.S. Marines massacred 24 Iraqi civilians after an insurgent-planted bomb killed a fellow marine.
The film works as both an art-house suspense offering and a serious indictment of the war mentality.
Broomfield, along with two official co-writers and a mostly nonprofessional cast, combines fact, speculation and fancy in dramatizing the events surrounding the above-mentioned slaughter, which occurred at a Haditha, Iraq, residential complex in November 2005.
He presents ripples of war-zone experience and anxiety, with a focus on three groups: U.S. Marines, Iraqi insurgents and Haditha villagers.
The chief protagonist is the fact-inspired Cpl. Ramirez (played by former Marine Elliot Ruiz), the physically and emotionally scarred leader of the Marine squad responsible for the bloodbath. He revs up his men to view all Iraqis as potential terrorists and to do horrible things. He has nightmares.
We also meet the two bomb-planting insurgents. While not fond of their al-Qaeda bosses, they dislike the Americans (whose elimination of the Iraqi army cost one of them his job) more.
Additional characters include a klatch of village women who discuss how to handle their knowledge of the explosives planted in their midst.
As is generally the case when inexperienced actors tackle emotional material and improvise dialogue, things sometimes get clunky. The drama isn’t as powerfully tragic as similarly themed works by Paul Greengrass or Michael Winterbottom, or allegorical Iranian fare like “Turtles Can Fly.” Documentarians Errol Morris and Alex Gibney have more effectively examined how current military mind-sets warp soldiers’ decency sensibilities to appalling degrees.
But it’s still a worthy little war drama.
Lacking the wearisome American insistence on presenting subjects as either good guys or baddies, and displaying none of his prior tendency to insert himself obtrusively into his films, Broomfield draws us into credible scenarios, builds suspense and delivers realistic characters whose flawed humanity keeps us believing.
And if the ending gets gooey, it is an isolated misstep. The 90 or so minutes that precede it add up to a satisfying and convincing look at how the Haditha tradedy could and did happen.
Battle for Haditha (three stars)
Starring Elliot Ruiz, Yasmine Hanani, Falah Ibrahim, Andrew McLaren
Written by Nick Broomfield, Marc Hoeferlin, Anna Telford
Directed by Nick Broomfield
Running time 1 hour, 33 minutes