This Is War AKA Severe Clear (2009)
First Lieutenant Mike Scotti’s direct account of military action during Operation Iraqi Freedom is revealed through the use of his own footage (shot on DV-camera) edited and given some structure by writer-director Kristian Fraga.
Of course, it seems strange that any such documentary covering a very real and very dangerous time and place should be scripted and structured but Fraga puts things together well and replicates moments written in Scotti’s own journal to keep us centred within the maelstrom of war.
With accompanying blurb and advertising citing the likes of Paranormal Activity and Cloverfield, I would warn viewers right away that this movie is not like those examples at all with the exception of the cinema verite style (not faked in this instance). I would choose to recommend this to anyone who saw the fantastic Restrepo.
Sadly, I have to say from the outset that this movie is not quite as good as Restrepo but that’s just the chance you take when capturing reality on film. For example, Mike Scotti is a likeable, personable guy who manages to put forward his views patriotically and passionately while also voicing concerns about the way things quickly go from bad to worse for the soldiers stuck out in a foreign land surrounded by people they have been tasked to offer assistance to despite the fact that there’s a noticeable wave of resentment building and building into a potential tsunami.
But Mike is surrounded by people we just don’t get to know all that well, whether that’s to do with the natural organised chaos of the military strategies or simply due to the man with the camera staying focused on the all-too-important maintenance of his own life.
What This Is War provides us with is a series of snapshots that both celebrate the soldier who goes overseas to protect the freedoms of his fellow man and also remind us of how horrifying the results can be for the people transporting themselves through battlefields full of dead bodies. Of course, in between the firefights and the tension we also see the boredom of everyday life in an environment where racing scorpions can become a fun pasttime and there are times when the stress and strain on the soldiers comes from the harsh conditions around them and the fear of any possible attack that doesn’t necessarily come to fruition.
Definitely worth watching, and a timely reminder that battles nowadays are not solely won and lost by long-range weapons fired by “videogamers” detached from the blood and dirt of the frontline, the main problem with This Is War is that it is a wild, incoherent ride at times . . . . . . much like the war it is throwing us into, ironically enough.
The DVD, released 4/10/10, is packed full of extras for those wanting to know more. There’s an informative commentary with film critic Matt Zoller and director Kristian Fraga, discussing choices made to benefit the structure of the movie, etc. There are also a number of deleted/alternate takes, something not always available within the documentary format. A script to screen comparison of the airlift to Kuwait sequence shows how things were tidied up, a small featurette shows how the visually stylish maps shown onscreen were created and things are rounded out by interviews with the director and the star of the piece. A worthy package.
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DIRECTOR: KRISTIAN FRAGA
STARS: MIKE SCOTTI PLUS A SUPPORTING CAST OF MANY BRAVE SOLDIERS
DURATION: 93 MINS APPROX