Nick Broomfield, the English documentarian and occasional fiction filmmaker, is the movie biz equivalent of a great tabloid editor: his work is blunt but craftily manipulative, provocative, emotionally loaded.
Whether he's profiling female serial killers (two docs on Aileen Wuornos), high-class panderers (Heidi Fleiss: Hollywood Madam) or the travails of legendary druggy rockers (Kurt & Courtney), Broomfield surveys the landscape of scandal and sleaze with savvy intelligence and muckraking glee.
With Battle for Haditha, the director tackles the war in Iraq. Specifically, this doc-like feature presents a gritty, hypothetical reenactment of the events surrounding a 2005 roadside attack of a convoy of U.S. Marines. One Marine was killed, two others seriously wounded, and so their buddies take off into the homes along the road, retaliating in a killing spree that took the lives of 24 unarmed Iraqis - men, women, children.
Shot in Jordan, and employing a cast of real ex-Marines that had served in Iraq, along with real Iraqi refugees, Battle for Haditha is exploitative, obvious, and has the ring of truth about it, too. The Marines, led by a Philly boy, Corporal Ramirez (Elliot Ruiz), may question why they're fighting, but there's no question that they're ready to fight. One of the insurgents (Falah Ibrahim) is a bitter ex-Iraqi soldier, a onetime pawn of Saddam now being played by Islamic radicals. The ringleader films the Marines as they make their lethal house-to-house attack. "Now the world will see how the Americans behave," he says, perfectly content to let innocent citizens die. The doomed bystanders are families, grandmothers, kids, a couple who have just made love.
Full of didactic dialogue (from all sides) and the roar of gunfire and heavy metal music, Battle of Haditha is vastly more effective than Brian DePalma's pretentious and phony, similarly-themed Iraq conflict flick, Redacted.
Lacking in subtlety and nuance, Broomfield's nerve-jangling movie nonetheless succeeds in showing the war from various vantage points. And from wherever one's standing, the view is profoundly disturbing.
Battle For Haditha **1/2 (out of four stars)
Directed by Nick Broomfield. With Elliot Ruiz, Falah Ibrahim, Eric Mehalacopoulos and Yasmine Hanani. Distributed by Hanway Films. In English, and in Arabic with subtitles.
Running time: 1 hour, 37 mins.
Parent's guide: No MPAA rating (violence, profanity, adult themes)
Playing at: Ritz Five
Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or email@example.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://go.philly.com/onmovies.