x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Battle for Haditha

DVD Review Broomfield's visual style is digital vérité, but the film, with its grim air of inevitability, owes more to Greek tragedy than to docudrama.

Nick Broomfield's film Battle for Haditha might have been titled Biography of an IED: its characters are all brought together by an ordinary propane tank, cruelly augmented with incendiaries and a mobile phone. The bomb's triggerman is Ahmad, a rumpled former Iraqi Army officer, and its target is an adrenalised bunch of "boorah"-shouting, paranoid US Marines. But the IED's real victims are the Iraqi families who happen to live along the road where it is detonated. Broomfield lovingly evokes their domestic lives early in the film, which makes it all the more gut-wrenching when 24 of them are slaughtered by the Marines after one soldier is killed by Ahmed's blast. Broomfield's visual style is digital vérité, but the film, with its grim air of inevitability, owes more to Greek tragedy than to docudrama; the characters are all trapped in responses that lead to its grisly conclusion. However, while even Ahmad's humanity is finely drawn, the US Marines' motivations remain a black box of combat programming and post-traumatic stress. It is often difficult to sympathise with them, though Broomfield clearly wants us to. After all, the real villains of his sometimes didactic tragedy are the Olympian gods offscreen, in Washington.