September 28, 2007

REVIEW: No End in Sight (A-)

Background: Guess what? The U.S. is at war in Iraq. First time filmmaker Charles Ferguson decided in 2004, after it was clear the post-Saddam era in Iraq was in trouble, that he would investigate the causes behind the initial chaos. The focus on this aspect of the war is what separates Ferguson's film from other documentaries such as The Fog of War; Uncovered: The War in Iraq; Control Room; Fahrenheit 9/11; Gunner Palace; Why We Fight; My Country, My Country; Iraq in Fragments; or The War Tapes (one of my 10 Best of 2006). The title of Ferguson's film does not attempt to hide a political bias, nor does it need to, since the film industry has not produced anything supporting the war. Wake up if you don't know Hollywood's politics by now. Anyway, Ferguson did take the high road with No End in Sight in that he at least went to Iraq himself to film it, hiring his own security and arranging transportation. Quite a way to make your first film.

Synopsis: By late 2002, the Bush Administration had alledgedly already decided to go to Iraq. Plans were in place for the invasion of Baghdad and overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime, however the strategy for a temporary U.S. occupation and installation of a new government was unclear. The film focuses on this lack of planning, featuring numerous interviews with Defense and State Department employees who were involved at the highest levels of decision-making during the first years of the war. In between interviews, Campbell Scott narrates sections (titled, for example, "Chaos") that neatly lay out an argument that the Bush Administration (Rumsfeld, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Bremer, et. al.) made a series of bad decisions beginning in the summer of 2003, most of which were the result of poor planning and rushed orders in the weeks leading up to the invasion of Baghdad. By the end of the film, you're unsurpisingly meant to be convinced that the current situation in Iraq is worse than you could have ever possibly imagined, and all blame can be directed the place in the film's poster.

I Loved:
+ The quality of Ferguson's cinematography - after only seeing news clips and grainy videos for years, it is a significantly different experience to see high-quality digital video of Baghdad.
+ The interviews with Richard Armitage, Jay Garner, and Paul Hughes, three extremely involved Administration officials who air their frustrations but have the humility to refrain from attacking anyone in particular because they recognize that the problems were systemic.

I Liked:
+ The interviews with the soldiers - they were some of the most poignant I've heard/read from Iraq veterans.

I Disliked:
- The financial factoid graphic - $1.8 trillion is so much money it's difficult to even comprehend, and the point is lost. Better to show how else it could have been spent.

I Hated:
- The poorly chosen settings in which people were interviewed - a half-darkened office, a half-darkened studio loft, a half-darkened stairwell. Why would an interview ever be filmed in a stairwell!?

Writing - N/A
Acting - N/A
Production - 8
Emotional Impact - 9
Music - 5
Significance - 5

Total: 27/30= 90% = A-

Last Word: At some point in the last few years, my reading of articles and essays on the war in Iraq significantly decreased. I'm just unable to get any new insights into what's happening. I understand the divisions and the debates, but let's face it, I've grown tired of the rhetoric. Ferguson doesn't necessarily add anything new to the story, but his organization is helpful, and hearing a lot of former Administration officials take responsibility for their actions is pretty impressive. Also, it's worth seeing No End in Sight to review the decisions made in the initial stages of the occupation (i.e., disbanding the Iraqi Army), since one official points out that the current and probably future chaos can almost entirely be traced back to the first month after Saddam was taken out. That's speculation of course, but it's the reason you won't feel very well walking out of the theater.

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