The Good

The Bad

Gunner Palace is an amazing movie about our current conflict in Iraq. It is a film that captures the 21st Century soldier in all his/her many facets. Quite simply, it is one of the most important War documents ever made. In a nutshell, this is movie about the soldiers who are holed up in a bombed out “pleasure palace” built by Saddam Hussein. We get to see the soldiers execute raids on possible terrorists, endure roadside bombs and mortar attacks(which are amazingly captured in this movie), to the parties the soldier’s throw during their brief down moments at the pool.

Yet, it is during these solemn moments, when we just get to focus on the soldiers, when we get to see them for who and what they are, that the most real and true moments seem to come to the surface. This story is told through various soldiers “freestyling” rap accounts of the life they have to live while on duty in Iraq. We see them laugh and joke, and also the obvious serious side to all of this. These are soldiers who know all too well the situation that they are in. Some question why we are there, some don’t but all seem to understand that they are soldiers and at all times our appreciation for them is bolstered as we see that they are doing a job that very few of us would ever volunteer to do.

I am also impressed by the filmmakers. There is a scene at one point where they go home. They are in their kitchen, away from Iraq, and we as the viewers honestly feel that the “heat” has been turned off. This film crew now has nothing to worry about. Yet, amazingly, these people went back. They ventured back to one of the most dangerous regions of the world, because of how much they not only believed in the story, but in the soldiers who were telling it. Gunner Palace is not some glossy slicked up production. This seems like the kind of movie that anybody with a camcorder could have made. Yet, it takes a special kind of person to keep the camera’s running amidst blasts, gunshots and the constant threat from an enemy we can’t see but are trying to defeat. This movie, if nothing else, really gets the idea across that War is not only hell but it’s confusing as hell. There are no real winners it seems because everyone is scarred, people have died and the end of one conflict seems to mean that another one will arise soon enough.

Companies like Palm Pictures and ThinkFilm are kicking the butts of the bigger, stronger more powerful movie studios. They are not doing it with money, but with ideas through films that are have more interesting points in their one sheets, then most studio movies have in their whole films. This is not to say that studio movies never get it right, it’s just saying that for right now, it seems that the films that are really staying with me are the one’s coming from companies that are beholden to nobody but themselves.

Features

As this is a screener copy of this movie and not the actually copy of Gunner Palace that is being released, I wasn’t able to view any of the extras. Although, this might change, the soon to be released DVD will include deleted scenes and weblinks. Honestly, a film like this stands just fine on it’s own.

Video

Widescreen of some sort although this cover really doesn’t say what kind. I would actually like to know what type of camera was used to shoot this movie? I only say that because it has a washed out look that really isn’t that clear, but it works because of where this movie takes place. Iraq, from what I have seen in pictures and on the news, seems like a place with pretty consistent weather. The look of this film captures not only that, but it really seems to do a good job getting the mood right. I found that on my small TV, the images looked tighter and more compact then when I screened this movie in the theater. This makes sense, simply because the image was blown up so large. Either way, the look of Gunner Palace has an accessibility that should hit home with many people. This movie is, in a sense, a very serious home movie and that, if for no other reason, should be enough for it to creep into people’s minds and stay there for awhile. We are voyeurs into this world of the soldier in Iraq and this movie doesn’t ever let us forget that.

Audio

2.0 Stereo - 5.1 Surround Sound. I can only imagine how much work went into getting the sound right for this film. I say this because, as this is a documentary, was shot on video, I have to wonder what a nightmare the sound must have been. That said, the filmmakers get it right in every facet as the tone of the movie is one of tension, brief respites from that tension and then more tension. There are no politics here. The soldiers are just allowed to be themselves and in so doing, put across an image of diversity that I don’t think people think about when they think of our men and women on the front lines. The sound is crisp but it’s not perfect. There were moments where I found things hard to hear or decipher, but I think that all this did was put me in the mindset of what these troops deal with on a daily basis.

Package

While this is only a screener copy, I have seen what the real artwork will look like. At least, the front cover anyway. The main picture is of a soldier ready for combat and the palace behind them. The way the helmet rests on the soldier’s head sort of seems like while they are there to fight in Iraq, they are also young and not totally equipped for the war their enemy is about to rage. This is just me reading into this, but it seems like we as Americans are learning very quickly that everything we thought about the world, and their perceptions of us are constantly changing and evolving. This picture of the soldier and the accompanying image behind it of the palace itself, really puts an indelible portrait of what this movie is about in your mind.

Final Word

I loved this movie. I feel that everyone who hasn’t seen it should get the chance. The thing is they will now that it is on DVD, but for some reason I don’t know that it will catch fire like the other documentary and war movies have. I say this because I don’t think that people have the awareness about Gunner Palace that they should. I also don’t think that a majority of American’s are going to want to rent or buy a movie when they think they can just turn on their TVs and see the story for free.

The thing is, while they can turn on their TVs and see some of the stories, they can’t see this story anywhere else. It is a story about Americans and a country we trying to spread democracy in. Whether or not you agree with our mission, the point of this movie seems to be that our mission is happening, their are soldiers fighting and dying in it and this is something very real and needs to be taken into consideration. This movie also looks at the Iraqi people and gives them a face that is also neither black or white.

Gunner Palace is a very well done movie that seems to reside in a nervous gray area.

Gunner Palace was released January 1, 2004.