The war in Iraq has inspired a number of cinematic responses. There are some films that favor of the war, even more that voice opposition against it and then there are some that are dedicated to validating or attacking the claims of these films. Even in such complex company, “Gunner Palace” stands out. The film takes viewers to Baghdad, examines the daily lives of American soldiers, including a stark visual survey of what the area looks like today. It offers one of the most intimate views of soldiers in Iraq that’s currently available to American audiences.
That fact alone shows the value of “Gunner Palace”: It places audiences in the midst of a war that’s still going on. But the movie does very little with such potential. Clocking in at a scant 85 minutes, the film shows no sense of purpose — the filmmaker’s obtrusive voiceover and the jumbled structure takes away from their otherwise singular footage. “Gunner Palace” has much to say, but no idea how to say it, and it ends up botching what could have been the most revealing look yet at what it’s like to be a soldier in today’s Iraq.
The film’s title refers to the nickname for the mansion that belonged to Saddam Hussein’s son Uday; it has become a sort of semi-official haven for troops in the war. The film follows soldiers there through the use of raw footage and interviews as they joke, lament and even freestyle about their experiences. The scenes that allow soldiers to dominate the screen and express themselves are when the film’s value is most apparent.
The film’s drawbacks are entirely the making of directors Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein, who manipulate their own footage into the manic mess that is “Gunner Palace.” They jeopardize its impact in order to push their own personal commentary on the war that, in the context what is on the screen, is irrelevant. The narration, spoken in a heavy monotone, along with the film’s fragmented structure, intrudes whenever the film seems to be onto something. Not only are Tucker and Epperlein unable to construct the movie with any purposeful development but they ultimately take it down the completely wrong road, forcing it into a contrived antiwar testimonial that lacks solid foundation. Given the material, “Gunner Palace” has only its moments of candid observation to salvage it. Unfortunately, their power alone doesn’t make up for the directors’ overbearing tone.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars