In the first Gulf War, there was one “private security consultant” (a.k.a. mercenary) for every 100 soldiers; in our current engagement in Iraq, the ratio is one to ten. That’s one of the alarming facts trotted out in this slick but engaging doc. Bicanic comes from the world of multimedia design, while Bourque has an extensive background in commercials, and it shows. Shadow Company deploys flashy computer-animated 3-D maps, complex mixes of image and text, and a score and sound effects designed to ratchet up the feeling that something exciting is happening. Not that there’s anything wrong with using all the tools at your disposal, but sometimes the film’s content gets overwhelmed by its form.
But, oh, that content. Bicanic and Bourque interview a surprising range of people. You’d expect mercs and industry lobbyists and an analyst from the Brookings Institution. But it’s a pleasure to see ethicist Eike-Henner W. Kluge and medievalist scholar Frances Stonor Saunders (who brings historical context, but also has become an expert on modern mercenaries).
There’s no mistaking the opinion of the filmmakers about the boom in the “private security” industry. They point to the lack of legal accountability and the problematic ethics of soldiers for hire. Even the contractors themselves seem worried about the explosive growth of their business in the last two decades. And since private soldiers appear to be the future of warfare, this doc suggests, we should all be very worried indeed.