No critic would argue that Tony Gerber and Jesse Moss haven’t found themselves a fascinating subject in their doc “Full Battle Rattle,” which opened Wednesday and which focuses on Medina Wasl, a fake Iraqi village filled with real Iraqi exiles that’s the final stop for soldiers heading for all-too-real Iraq deployment — a massive, Army-run simulation. Whether “Full Battle Rattle” succeeds as a film is a point of debate for some, though again, reviews are mostly positive.
“Full Battle Rattle is an indelible vision of modern war, a not-so-fun fun-house mirror of the Iraq occupation,” writes David Edelstein at New York. “The film is freaky, amusing, and sickening in equal measures–part fly-on-the-wall vÃ©ritÃ©, part multiple-perspective Altmanesque tragicomedy.” “Full Battle Rattle works just fine as a two-fisted combat story, with unexpected bursts of violence peppering that old universal message that war is hell,” adds Noel Murray at the Onion AV Club. “But the added layer of pretense pushes the movie to another level.”
Andrew O’Hehir at Salon finds that “If ‘Full Battle Rattle’ begins as surreal, almost goofball farce, with a bunch of beefy guys playing a fancy-dress version of laser tag in the desert — aided by a bunch of rented Iraqis who’d rather be watching TV in suburbia — it ends on an ambiguous and haunting note, much closer to tragedy.” Observes a more non-committal A.O. Scott at the New York Times: “Military personnel rotate through Medina Wasl en route to and from tours of duty in Iraq. Iraqis who have fled their country recreate fragments of it in the California desert, and the surreal encounters between them seem like a fact of life, or an episode of reality television.”
Others express discontent with the film. “The movie arouses, without gratifying, a desire to see the camera–not to mention the hidden command center where the scenarios are devised,” writes J. Hoberman at the Village Voice. “It’s somewhat too seamless, even if the filmmakers do break the illusion to interview American soldiers and Iraqi role-players.” “Other than delivering an initial dose of ‘Can you believe this exists?’ strangeness, the film contributes little to the discussion about the war’s preparation and execution,” sighs Nick Schager at Slant. And for Vadim Rizov at the House Next Door, “it’s yet another documentary where filmmakers are fearless about getting great footage but clueless about the form it should take.”
[Photo: “Full Battle Rattle,” Film Sales Company, 2008]