Who knew that an alternative to Brian De Palma’s Redacted would come from the Brit filmmaker best known as a “stalkumentarian”? Having sought out the soul of Aileen Wurnos, the killers of Biggie and Tupac, and Margaret Thatcher, Nick Broomfield chases the dream of the responsible Iraq War chronicle. The functional docudrama Battle for Haditha is based on the 2005 bloodlust massacre of 24 Iraqis by Marines enraged by an IED attack.
Battle resembles an attempt at engineering a documentary in controlled circumstances, covering the bases with a circumscribed story, amateur performances, and diagrammable concerned parties. (Broomfield’s previous film, Ghosts, unreleased here, warmed up the style with a recent U.K. story of immigrant exploitation.) Grunts (and leader) flip the switch and turn a civilian neighborhood into a house-by-house battlefield; a family dallies over reporting the bomb in the first place out of fear; the perpetrators, locals recruited by jihadists, regret the cost of inducing war crimes.
At this point, the rollover of traumas and injustices in Iraq seems to put impossible pressure on meaningful dramatization of the subject: what would suffice, especially given the contemporary hunger for simultaneous top-down accounting? Broomfield attempts to rise to the challenge by simplifying his mission and outlining familiar dysfunctions and catch-22s. But ironically his strongest moments are the most cinematic ones: kid soldiers roaring across the dunes to the strains of Ministry, or, in maybe the movie’s biggest contribution, a young Iraqi couple sneaking a bedroom snog. As a vote for clarity and restraint, Battle is laudable, but it might strike the under-moved as best appreciated at a later, less benumbed date.
Opens May 7 at Film Forum