Yes, that’s Donahue’s name up there — the shock-white-haired talk show pioneer has become one of the leading voices of Iraq War protest as well as a media martyr (“a difficult public face for NBC in a time of war,” according to a notorious leaked memo). Now Body of War has him bypassing mainstream outlets as director/producer of a human-interest documentary cum anti-war rallying cry, co-directed by veteran filmmaker Ellen Spiro.
So Phil’s fighting the good fight, though the idea of Body of War invites wariness not because of its content but because of Donahue’s often doofy, over-earnest approach to heavy issues. The film vanquishes such fears, however, by unflinchingly and mostly unostentatiously (warning: original Eddie Vedder songs) depicting the post-war trials of Tomas Young, paralyzed from the chest down from sniper fire while serving in Iraq. His is the very real cost of the Bush Administration’s groundless aggression: immobility, impotence, unregulated body temperature and a medical system that gives nothing but short shrift (and a mountain of pills) to vets. With help from his mother and a younger brother serving multiple tours of duty, Young counters a failing marriage and daily physical and emotional pain with increased anti-war activism and a sizable wit.
It’s a stirring story that speaks for itself politically and otherwise, which is why Donahue and Spiro’s decision to interlace it with CSPAN footage of Congress’s vote to give Bush the authority to invade Iraq is so unnecessary and ill-fitting. The two storylines converge in Young’s meeting with Robert Byrd, leader of the Senate’s anti-war minority, an awkwardly staged photo-op that thankfully fails to detract from Young’s earlier, more meaningful encounters.