Operation Hollywood: Tinseltown’s recent wave of films on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan

In the last three years, Hollywood, along with independent film companies and some documentarians, have begun producing films related to the wars against terror in Iraq and Afghanistan. The fact that the conversation has started is a vast improvement from the early years when all that was available were short news segments from embedded reporters and insurgency propaganda.  In the following selection of films, the viewpoints range from the soldier’s view and the families they left behind to the political woes of elected officials trying to manage the conflicts and the public opinions back home. Are they getting the story right? You decide.

The Hurt Locker (2009)

As delighted as I am for Kathryn Bigelow to be the first female to win best director, it is a shame that with so few movies about Iraq, (and still so many misconceptions among the American people) the one that caught so many people’s attention, got so much wrong.

The cavalier and nonchalant actions of EOD technician SFC James displays none of the characteristics of teamwork and esprit de corps of which the US military is prided today. Also, the convoys consisting of one HMMWV rolling out of Victory Base Complex (Baghdad), or the rogue senior NCO sneaking off base, were far from realistic. The consensus from the vet community is that the CGI was good, but the portrayal in this film was embarrassing.

Brothers (2009)

This film, a remake of a Swedish film of the same name, follows a U.S. Marine captain, his wife and two daughters from pre-deployment preps to his assumed funeral, and ultimately to his return from being a POW in the hands of Afghan warlords. His post-traumatic stress becomes uncontrollable when he suspects his ex-con brother has been having an affair with his wife. This film is sure to stir up emotions through the sometimes-graphic displays of post-combat stress on the Marine officer and his family.

The Lucky Ones (2008)

The Lucky Ones follows three Army soldiers, who through coincidence and cancelled flights, end up renting a car together during their mid-tour leave from Iraq.  Both the young male and female soldiers were wounded in battle and all had other battles to confront when they get home.  This film reminds us that no matter our origins, education level, or years of service, veterans have a way of easily creating bonds and being faithful friends during the thick and thin.

Lions for Lambs (2007)

This film blends together a disaffected high schooler receiving advice from his mentor teacher, a US senator with aims for higher office and the probing veteran reporter that nags him, and two deployed soldiers in Afghanistan. I believe the iconic scene in the film is when the two soldiers are completely surrounded by Taliban fighters. It is winter, in the mountains, and one of the men has been wounded. Rather than try escaping on his own, leaving his comrade behind, the battle buddy stays with his wounded friend, a move tantamount to death for them both. This heroic action illustrates the true ethos of never leave a fallen soldier behind.

The Green Zone (2010)

Some may assume that a soldier’s job in combat is to follow and execute orders from above. But what happens when things just don’t add up? This feature film follows Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller during the early months of post-invasion Iraq. Through personal curiosity and determination, Miller discovers that the faulty WMD intel was just a political ploy for invasion.  This film shows the lengths politicians may go to win the public relations battle and the how it effects the service member on the ground.

Lioness (2008)

Many Americans may not be aware that official policy prohibits women from joining MOS (military occupational specialties) that require direct ground combat.  Soon after the conflict and insurgency began in Iraq, it became apparent that women would in fact be needed to help search female Iraqis and conduct other tasks that would be considered taboo for the men.  Lioness is a documentary about the small group of female Army support soldiers who served alongside U.S. Marines in some of the bloodiest counterinsurgency battles in post- invasion Iraq.  The film primarily focuses on their reflections and coping once they redeployed.

The Messenger (2009)

In a directorial debut by Oren Moverman, The Messenger gives a completely new look at conflict as this film follows a captain and staff sergeant who have been assigned to the Army’s Casualty Notification service. Just recently returned from his own Iraq deployment, SSG Montgomery struggles to heal from his own battle wounds while transitioning to his new mission of notifying families of the fallen.

Restrepo (2010)

This documentary follows a U.S. Army platoon in the dangerous Korengal Valley of Afghanistan during their yearlong deployment.  Their remote fire base, Restrepo, was named after their fallen platoon medic.  In ninety minutes, audiences will experience the death of a team member, firefights, and the sleep disorders that these young soldiers have to juggle while patrolling the mountains of a country where the enemy is not always clearly apparent.

Western Front (2010)

Writer and director Zachary Iscol fought in Al Anbar, Iraq in 2004 with the U.S. Marine Corps.  Years later he returns to find a different situation, though the experience resurfaces many old memories.  This honest film ends up revealing the nature of war from all sides.

Baker Boys: Inside the Surge (2009)

This documentary follows the final ninety days of a 15-month deployment in Iraq of Baker Company, First Battalion, Fifteenth Infantry Regiment.  A part of the famed 3rd Infantry Division, the deployment, a part of the surge of 2007, was the third round in Iraq for many of the soldiers.  Through four 60-minute episodes, we get an insight into what COIN looks like on the ground and the imprinted scars of battle that appear once back in garrison.

Warrior Champions: From Baghdad to Beijing (2009)

In Warrior Champions, we learn the inspiring stories of four severely wounded Iraq veterans who have truly made lemonade from lemons.  In as little as a year after losing limbs in battle, these athletes trained and competed for slots in the 2008 Paralympic Games.  These four heroes quickly became the symbols of hope and determination for the myriad new patients that arrived at Walter Reed Army Medial Center.

The Tillman Story (2010)

The Tillman Story tells the truth, which was concealed for many years, of the life and death of professional football player turned Army ranger Pat Tillman.  Through dedication and an insatiable appetite for the answers, Dannie Tillman collected evidence and questioned top officials to get the real story leading to the fall of her son.  Pat’s story is ultimately about patriotism and honor- the traits that were not present when top officials used his death as a public relations ploy.

Posted: 27 Aug 2010.

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One thought on “Operation Hollywood: Tinseltown’s recent wave of films on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan

  1. sjw says:

    Great rundown of what is available in Iraq and Afghanistan war genres. I have only seen a few, but look forward to checking out the others that the author has summarized here. Thanks.

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