No one ever accused Nick Broomfield of being a particularly elegant filmmaker. A certain studied clumsiness is central to his whole aesthetic. In documentaries like Kurt & Courtney and Aileen Wuornos: The Selling Of A Serial Killer, Broomfield, the sly Columbo of non-fiction filmmakers, calculatingly plays the fool so that his sleazy subjects will let their guards down and let the ugliness and greed at the core of their being ooze out. With its occasionally stilted acting and clumsy dialogue, Broomfield's scrappy new docudrama Battle For Haditha sometimes feels like an amateur remake of Jarhead. Yet it ultimately derives much of its primal power from its bluntness and simplicity. Like Broomfield's documentary work, it stumbles purposefully onto harsh truths about the ugliness of human nature.
Based on the Haditha killings and filmed documentary-style using former servicemen and a rough outline instead of a detailed script, Battle For Haditha dramatizes a notorious incident wherein 24 Iraqis, primarily civilians and non-combatants, were killed by Marines in retaliation for the killing of an American soldier via an IED. Broomfield cuts back and forth between American troops pushed past the breaking point, the men responsible for the IED, and innocent women and children unlucky enough to be in the wrong place in the wrong time.
Broomfield isn't shy about using his characters as mouthpieces to express broad philosophical statements about the War On Terror. But his film gains a cumulative power as it marches relentlessly towards the defining moment where law and order breaks down entirely and gives way to madness and slaughter. As in so many Iraq War movies, the soldiers here are little more than kids, overgrown jocks barely able to buy liquor legally yet given the power of life and death through uniforms that are a source of both power and powerlessness. Though utterly damning in his depiction of the U.S. military, Broomfield takes pains to humanize both sides of the conflict; though he does monstrous things, the film's lead character (Elliot Ruiz) is far from a monster. Unsubtle but gripping, Battle For Haditha illustrates how a military that treats every man, woman, and child as a potential enemy can soon find that such thinking constitutes a self-fulfilling prophecy.