Monday, March 07, 2005


Movie Review: Gunner Palace.

Gunner Palace tells the story of the 2/3 Field Artillery, 1st Armored Division, assigned to patrol the Adhamiya district in Baghdad from 2003 until 2004.

The "characters" are all real-live soldiers doing their tour of duty. From the cool and collected battalion commander straight out of central casting down to the budding gangsta rap privates, we meet many of the 2/3's soldiers both on duty and off.

The documentary relies heavily on the ironic juxtaposition of Uday's shell-shocked palace that 2/3 uses as their home and the daily dreariness of patrol. One moment, the unit is relaxing amidst barbecues and swimming pools; the next, squads are kicking down doors to collect suspects.

I know a few people who've spent time in Iraq, ranging from a few days to many months, and Gunner Palace was one of the first things I've seen that really feels like the stories they've told me. Michael Tucker, the director/narrator of the film, isn't the best documentarian-- there are plenty of moments where he should've just shut up and let the imagery speak for itself-- but overall, he does a good job of simply getting out of the way of his subjects.

Don't take my raves for it; military bloggers like Blackfive felt the movie did justice to service in Iraq.

A lot of what comes across is the chaotic combination of endless tedium and terrible anticipation. A boring day at the office involves driving down a street where a shot can ring out at any time.

What I found most interesting about the movie is how it captured an environment one of my veteran friends told me about. He once said to me that to understand what being in Baghdad was like, you had to remember the one time you in your infinite whiteness got lost in the absolute worst section of Southeast D.C. or South Central Los Angeles. Oh, plus it's the night of the Rodney King riots. And it's like this every hour of the night, and every hour of the day, for months on end. A wee-bit stressful.

The days are full of bustle on the streets of Baghdad, with plenty of traffic that could hold a bomber or a sniper. Come night, the streets are lit but empty, as the humvee columns make their patrols through Indian country, off to yet another appointment between their boot and a door.

I highly recommend the film, if just to understand the nature of "the job" that much better.

Oh, and you'll laugh your ass off at Specialist Wilf, who takes the cake as the most insane soldier you'll ever meet.

Enjoy the beer, Wilf. You've earned it.

UPDATE: To read a Gunner Palace review from a seriously depressed individual, look no further.

My favorite? Check out his "Best and Worst of 2004" list.

I'm the first person in line to complain about the Hollywood hit machine, but sheesh, this guy is a dour humorless tool.

I think he needs a little more Evil Dead in his life.

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