Iraq Through a Soldier’s Eyes (Again)

03/10/2010 4:00 AM |

Severe Clear
Directed by Kristian Fraga

The Iraq War documentary Severe Clear is comprised primarily of home videos shot by Mike Scotti, a marine who served on the front lines in the early days of the invasion and filmed with an eye towards posterity. The footage ends around the same time as the “major combat operations,” meaning that most of what defines the war today—the insurgency, Abu Grahib, Blackwater—hadn’t come up yet. The final scene has Scotti musing that since no weapons of mass destruction were found, “I’m left questioning whether we were defending our country.”

That idea was hardly prescient six years ago, and now, with public opinion near-unanimously against the war and Bush’s handling of it, it’s a weak conclusion for a documentary. This is an engaging and slickly edited film, but it says little that we don’t already know. 2004’s Gunner Palace covers much of the same ground, and early scenes about the day-to-day tedium for soldiers seem lifted almost verbatim from Jarhead.

The film never leaves Scotti’s point of view, except for deftly inserted news reports tracking the progress of the invasion. This prohibits big-picture conclusions, but perspective is not what director Kristian Fraga is going for. She deliberately keeps us from anything outside Scotti’s life, and her focus is admirable but limiting.

Fraga’s main task in assembling the film was to pare down countless hours of video into a coherent narrative. For the most part, she succeeds. There’s some great footage here, with vivid imagery that shows both the scope and brutality of the invasion and the burgeoning malcontent towards the presence of the troops. The editing in one battle is extraordinary, though one wonders why Scotti was filming at all then, let alone pointing the camera in the right direction.

What one misses is a greater understanding of who Scotti and the other marines are. A crucial scene where he tours Babylon and begins questioning the invasion isn’t given the depth it deserves. The film ends with this phrase, which says it all, though we didn’t have to enlist to discover it: “I once read that in war, bad things happen. Ain’t that the mother fucking truth.”

Opens March 12