Monday, July 7, 2008

Full Battle Rattle

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: GIs Play Simulated War Games in Mojave Desert Documentary

The final stop American soldiers make before being deployed to Iraq is at a top-secret, billion-dollar, 1,000 square-mile facility situated in the middle of the Mojave Desert. There, the Army has constructed a virtual version of Iraq on a small scale, a place comprised of 13 villages where GIs to prepare for service overseas. The Department of Defense employs hundreds of Iraqi immigrants full-time to inhabit the fake towns and to play a variety of civilian roles in simulated war games.
Full Battle Rattle, directed by Tony Gerber and Jesse Moss, follows a battalion from Texas, the 4th Brigade of the 1st Cavalry, for the duration of its three-week training regimen in Medina Wasl, a mock city slipping suffering from a simmering insurgency which is threatening to explode into all-out civil war. Superficially, the task at hand is to quell the rebellion while trying to win the hearts and minds of the locals. The challenge the soldiers face is familiarizing themselves with a strange culture and a strange language in a strange environment while trying to discern which of the smiling faces might be a terrorist with an IED or a suicide bomb.
Why the U.S. Government ever agreed to let anyone film these maneuvers on location at Fort Irwin is beyond me, but the directors ended up fashioning a fascinating film from the 350 hours of footage they shot. The simulations seem more like acting on a movie set than confrontations at an actual theater of war, since no one gets hurt here, and everyone knows on some level that these situations are not real.
Consequently, far more interesting than the staged standoffs are the heartfelt reflections of the participants during downtime. There’s an irony about the contrast of hearing Iraqi-Americans talking about life in this country and watching the military-industrial complex putting the finishing touches on young emlistees about to ship out to a godforsaken land to kill or be killed.
Full Battle Rattle’s closing credits include a sobering postscript noting that five members of the battalion starring you’ve just watched play war have already died over in Iraq, thereby turning the surreal grim in an instant.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 85 minutes
Studio: Mile End Films
Distributor: The Film Sales Company

To see a trailer for Full Battle Rattle, visit:

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