As we’ve officially entered Year Five of the Iraq debacle (with no end in sight) and the number of embedded, you-are-there documentaries ranges in the dozens, it’s apparently time for nonfiction films to present a new perspective. We’ve seen the carnage over there, the night raids and first-person soldier stories; now let’s examine the war at home. Phil Donahue and Ellen Spiro’s addition to the journalistic record of this media-fied conflict sticks to our soil, specifically the political buildup and the personal fallout.
Their primary subject, Pvt. Tomas Young, was left partially paralyzed by an insurgent’s bullet and must adjust to life back home as a paraplegic. To add big-picture context to Young’s plight, the former daytime talk-show host and his partner keep cutting to C-SPAN footage of Senator Robert Byrd’s passionate antiwar pleas as Congress passes its infamous 2002 resolution to give President Bush the go-ahead.
It’s an intriguing juxtaposition, mixing abstract debates on the use of force with the visual diary of a soldier who’s directly suffered from it. But though the film stands out from the Iraqumentary pack, even its intimate moments feel attached to an overall agenda. Body of War can’t shake the fact that it’s essentially another polemical screed, albeit one disguised as a human-interest news story and peppered with ironic, Daily Show–style montages.