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Battle for Haditha

Award-winning director mixes the crudity of military culture with the restlessness of everyday life in a war zone

By Chelsea Temple Jones

Battle for Haditha
Directed by Nick Broomfield
(Film4/HanWay Films)

In November 2005, a roadside bomb exploded near the hilly farming town of Haditha in western Iraq. The explosion killed one U.S. marine and injured two others. Frightened and angry, marines massacred 24 local Iraqis.

When an Iraqi student journalist’s film footage of the incident was released, both the American Navy and the Iraqi government conducted investigations. Then, in 2006, the story fizzled out of the headlines and most charges were dropped for lack of evidence. Writer and director Nick Broomfield’s Battle for Haditha may be the closest thing to resolution we’ve seen yet.

Shot by a small crew in Jerash, Jordan, the semi-scripted dramatic film follows the stories of an Iraqi family, the insurgents who plant the bomb, and the U.S. marines of Kilo Company. Former soldiers play the role of the marines, and Iraqi refugees living in Jordan largely improvise the other characters. Neither marines nor bombers are made out to be fanatics, and the civilian cast members enhance the film’s realism with their surprisingly skilful performances.

Broomfield juxtaposes the crudity of military culture (filled with bigoted comments about Iraq) with the tense restlessness of everyday life in a war zone. In one scene, an Iraqi couple stand, kissing softly, when they notice a roadside bomb being planted outside their home. The normalcy of the couple’s intimate moment is snatched away by the promise of impending violence, and they realize they are powerless in a war they did not choose for themselves.

The animosity between U.S. marines and Iraqi civilians grows more palpable and unsettling as the film’s suspense builds. All respond to the roadside bombings in the only ways they know how: through fear and counterattack.

The violence in this film is distressing, as the characters are massacred in what feels like real time with no explanations. Praised for being an Iraqi war film that actually features Iraqi characters and points of view, Battle for Haditha is an unwavering attempt at the fair telling of an unfair story.

Chelsea Temple Jones is a Toronto writer.

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