Saying that Nick Broomfield’s docudrama about a 2005 military fubar is the best narrative film about the Iraq War to date is a little like calling someone the smartest kid in a special-education class; the field is still relatively small, the expectations low and the caveats large. But the British director’s re-creation of an incident involving the slaughter of 24 Iraqi civilians is indeed the most solid non-vérité view we’ve seen of the shaky situation over there. Broomfield not only encapsulates the chaos that’s characterized this debacle still in progress, but also shepherds the parallel-plot strands with an evenhandedness that keeps the movie from devolving into mere sensationalistic tub-thumping.
The “battle” in question occurred when marines investigated a bomb-supply house in a former Iraqi vacation spot. On the way back to base, one of their Humvees is taken out by an IED, and what follows is a miniature My Lai massacre. Like most films in which the outcome is already part of the historical record, Battle for Haditha focuses primarily on the buildup: the planting of the device, the local woman (Hanani) who begs her husband (Ghaieb) to alert the authorities, the morally muddled corporal (Ruiz) who’s rapidly approaching his breaking point. By the time the inevitable occurs, the dread meter is in the red and Broomfield has achieved a Greengrass-level of sickening verisimilitude.
That doesn’t mean that the former documentarian doesn’t avoid clichés or exhaust the war’s visual lingua franca (grainy night vision, scorched-earth overexposures) in the process. But if his later nonfiction endeavors too often spilled into unfiltered indulgence, Broomfield seems to understand that drama requires both restraint and release to work. The result is as devastating as it is damning of the moral quandary on both sides; he may have finally found his true calling.
Cast and crew